Earnestly Pursuing Marijuana Eradication, Sheriff Both Lauded & Seen As A Tool Of The Modern Racketeers

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is pressing ahead with its marijuana eradication program, despite a continuing lack of prosecutorial fervor with regard to those efforts.
Over the last year, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which since 1999 has been participating in and receiving federal money for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, has intensified its crusade to stamp out the unlicensed cultivation of marijuana in the unincorporated portion of 20,105-square mile San Bernardino County.
The stepped up action has come despite the profound cultural/social changeover that occurred in November 2016 with California voters’ passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Since that time, five cities in San Bernardino County – Adelanto, Barstow, Hesperia, Needles and San Bernardino – are allowing or are making preparations to allow the sale of marijuana or marijuana-based products within their boundaries. At least eight other cities are allowing or at least tolerating the sale of a cannabis-based product – CBD oil – within their jurisdictions.
Sheriff John McMahon, with the consent of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, applied for and continued to receive the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program grants, which he is using to offset some, though not all, of his department’s costs in going after marijuana cultivators. At present, the department is using $151,000 obtained through a Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program grant to engage in its intensified efforts.
Reported previously was a major push in January 2021, when on January 6, the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team served a search warrant in the 2600 block of Parkdale Road in Adelanto, where they found 19,998 still-growing marijuana plants along with 186 pounds of partially-cured harvested marijuana.
On January 27, the task force located and seized another 1,903 marijuana plants and 306.5 pounds of harvested marijuana in Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley.
On February 2, that team descended upon a massive unlicensed marijuana cultivation operation on property in El Mirage, some 12.5 miles northwest of Adelanto, where they found 12 people on or immediately proximate to the property, which featured greenhouses in which 18,884 plants were growing.
On April 16, a sheriff’s department operation at Emerald Street and Pine Springs Avenue in Twentynine Palms resulted in the seizure of 476 marijuana plants. That was part of raids that took place over two days, April 16 and 17, which resulted in the location and destruction of 10,400 marijuana plants weighing more than six tons at the Emerald Street/Pine Springs Avenue location, as well as at Two Mile Road and Copper Mountain Road; Mesa Drive and Morongo Road; Nandina Street and Lupine Avenue; Rodgers Lane and Alfalfa Avenue; Canyon Road and Sunny Sands Drive; Sunny Sands Drive and Meldora Avenue; and within the 70300 block of Giant Rock Road.
Thirteen days later, on April 29, sheriff’s personnel returned to the Emerald Street and Pine Springs Avenue cultivation site, and went to four others located in the Twentynine Palms and Desert Heights environs, including one in the 73500 block of Two Mile Road; a property at the intersection of Dunlap Road and Canyon Road, another property proximate to Dunlap Road and Canyon Road, and a site at the corner of Redhill Road and Bermuda Avenue. In a less than seven-hour span, the deputies pulled up over 2,300 marijuana plants.
During operations in the greater Twentynine Palms area, Desert Heights and Landers on May 5 and May 7, raids were carried out on marijuana cultivation facilities on property near Sespe Street and Alta Avenue in Landers; Covela Avenue and Napa Road in Landers; property adjacent to Napa Road and Alta Avenue in Landers; at Covela Avenue and Sespe Street in Landers; at another site close to Covela Avenue and Sespe Street in Landers; at a site proximate to Kelsey Boulevard and Presswood Drive in Landers; on property at Kachina Drive and Shoshone Valley Road in Desert Heights and at a facility located on property in the 1200 block of Sunrise Avenue in Desert Heights. Those raids led to the seizure of 4,400 marijuana plants and over eight tons of uncured marijuana
There has been varied response to the sheriff’s department’s action.
Among a segment of San Bernardino County’s populace, particularly those over the age of 70, McMahon has been lauded for his resolve. He is admired for remaining true to an ethos and principle his department had historically hewed to. That ethos evolved out of California law, which for nearly a century, from 1907 until 1996, held that the use, possession, sale, cultivation, distribution or refinement of marijuana was strictly illegal in California. In that timeframe, tens of thousands of Californians served prison terms for their romance with cannabis.
Though California’s voters in 1996, with the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, made the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes legal in the state, pursuant to the user having a medical prescription for it, until Needles in 2012 became the lone exception, San Bernardino County’s cities steadfastly refused to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within their jurisdictions. With only the current exceptions of Needles, Adelanto, Barstow, Hesperia and San Bernardino, most San Bernardino County cities and the county government itself continue to ban the commercial cultivation and the sale of marijuana.
Those convinced that marijuana and its use presents an unacceptable risk to the maintenance of an orderly and healthy society lionize Sheriff McMahon for his courageous stand in standing by the principles he and his predecessors have embodied for generations. They are critical of the prosecutors for the State of California and the U.S. Justice Department who have not followed up on the arrests and activity of the sheriff’s department in seeking to dismantle the marijuana menace.
At the same time, a substantial portion of the population considers marijuana to be far less dangerous than does the sheriff’s department. Many people have simply accepted that the passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act four-and-a-half years ago, which allows those over 21 to use the drug for its intoxicative effect, has changed the cultural, social and legal reality to one in which our society has gone beyond criminalizing the use of cannabis. This segment of the population recognizes that marijuana, by virtually any objective standard that might be applied, is a more benign intoxicant than alcohol, which has been legally available since 1933.
Many of these individuals, in particular marijuana users, consider the sheriff’s department’s targeting of the marijuana industry to be wrongheaded and ill-advised. Some believe the sheriff’s department is venally-driven, in that the operations subjected to the raids are ones that are unlicensed, while those facilities that have obtained clearance from the various governmental entities that tolerate marijuana commercialization are being left alone and allowed to prosper. This, the department’s critics suggest, is an indication that those who have obtained commercial, cultivation, refinement or product-manufacturing licenses for marijuana activity within the county have paid off the government officials who provided them with those licenses and are now bribing individuals within the sheriff’s department to suppress their competition.
Others, including those who are not advocates of the marijuana lifestyle and fall within the pro-law enforcement milieu, are nevertheless profoundly disenchanted with McMahon over his quixotic effort to take down the marijuana industry. They recognize that very few of the actions by the sheriff’s department result in prosecutions, and they question whether McMahon is making an efficient use of his resources by initiating efforts that carry little likelihood of bringing those they are targeting to the bar of justice.
While the sheriff’s department often cites those individuals it has grounds to believe are associated with the cultivation activity the department is interrupting, it rarely makes arrests in which the perpetrators are incarcerated. In those cases where arrests are made during these operations, it has generally been for criminal offenses that are unrelated to the unlicensed production or possession of marijuana.
The reluctance of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office to involve itself in these cases is understandable, since the district attorney is empowered to act under the authority of California law, and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the law in California.
The pattern of apparent disinterest or apathy by federal prosecutors in the cases the sheriff’s department is generating is somewhat more baffling, since marijuana remains classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 Narcotic, considered in the same class as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and the sheriff’s department’s raids on marijuana farms all over San Bernardino County are carried out, in part, with funding supplied to the department under the federal Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
The absurdity of having scores of law enforcement officers devoting thousands of hours to efforts to collar marijuana cultivators and seize their product, and then not utilize the evidence seized and the documentation of the circumstance to prosecute those engaged in the unlicensed production of marijuana has been noted in writing by California’s Republican Congressional Delegation, including Representatives Mike Garcia (CA-25), Kevin McCarthy (CA-23), Jay Obernolte (CA-08), and Ken Calvert (CA-42) Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tom McClintock (CA-04), David Valadao (CA-21), Devin Nunes (CA-22), Young Kim (CA-39), Michelle Steel (CA-48), and Darrell Issa (CA-50), all of whom signed a letter earlier this month to the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland
“The sharp increase in illegal grow operations, which swelled as much as 300 percent in some areas over the last year, is a result of the dangerous combination of lack of law enforcement and lack of border security [and] the knowledge that criminals who are arrested will ultimately face no consequences,” the lawmakers wrote. They said the raids of the marijuana farms by the sheriff’s department “is routinely rendered pointless by prosecutors who refuse to charge offenders unless they commit additional, ‘more serious’ crimes as well.”
Whatever sentiment is expressed against him and by whom for whatever reasons, McMahon remains committed to uprooting marijuana plants wherever his deputies find them, by the dozens, scores, hundreds or thousands.
Such was the case on May 13, when the sheriff’s department’s Marijuana Enforcement Team along with personnel from the San Bernardino County Agricultural and Weights and Measures Department, and county code enforcement division converged on an outdoor cultivation site in the 35700 block of Granite Road in Lucerne Valley, after having received numerous reports about goings-on at that location.
The Sentinel is told that the operators had previously maintained that the farm was one for the cultivation of hemp to be used for the manufacturing of rope, cloth, paper and other materials. The 40-acre site hosted 199 greenhouses and had approximately 25 travel trailers onsite, with workers living in them. Most of the trailers were dumping sewage into large plastic containers buried in the ground nearby.
After personnel from the County Agricultural and Weights and Measures Department conducted field tests of the plants at the location and discovered their THC content was at levels that would eliminate their official governmental status as hemp under any conditions, a total of 76,118 plants were destroyed. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Yesterday, on May 20, the marijuana enforcement team and a member of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife served five search warrants at various locations in the Twentynine Palms area, including the 86200 block of Twentynine Palms Highway; at Monte Vista Drive and Waylyn; in the 25500 block of El Encanto; at Taco Road and Mojave; and at Bullion Mountain and Mesa Road. Deputies and detectives seized 3,901 marijuana plants and 652 pounds of processed marijuana. Most of the plants were growing outdoors
Dimas Santoyo Alonso, a 42-year-old male resident of Santa Maria, California; Jorge Luis Teyes Cruz, a 24-year-old male resident of Oxnard; Josue Neftali Reyes Cruz, a 22-year-old male resident of Oxnard; and Jose Cruz Reyes, a 45-year-old male resident of Mexico, were all present at the 86200 block of Twentynine Palms Highway location and were cited for the unlawful cultivation of marijuana. Kenny Wu, a 55-year-old male resident of Twentynine Palms who was at the 25500 block of El Encanto location was also cited. Jesus Sierra Pineda, a 32-year-old male resident of Mexico who was at the Bullion Mountain and Mesa Road site, was cited.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply