California Seizes 1.2 Million Dangerously Untaxed Marijuana Plants

Plus: Seattle businesses embrace private security in response to a police officer shortage, the FDA is set approve "mix and match" booster shots, and more...


Marijuana prohibition has officially ended in California, but you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the continued crackdown on grow operations across the state. On Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the seizure of 1.2 million illegally cultivated marijuana plants and 180,000 pounds of processed marijuana as part of the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program.

The CAMP program dates back to the "just say no" days of the 1980s. It's been kept alive since the legalization of recreational sales in 2018. Its new target is the marijuana black market that has persisted outside the state's legal, but heavily taxed and regulated, cannabis industry.

"Illegal and unlicensed marijuana planting is bad for our environment, bad for our economy, and bad for the health and safety of our communities," said Bonta. "From dumping toxic chemicals in our waterways to cheating the state out of millions of tax dollars, illicit marijuana grows have far-reaching impacts and unintended consequences."

A press release from Bonta's office says that this year's seizures were the result of 491 raids conducted by federal, state, and local agencies in 26 counties. In addition to the untaxed marijuana, these operations also netted illegal pesticides and 165 weapons. That's about one gun per every three raids, suggesting the state isn't nabbing a lot of Pablo Escobars.

Despite the herculean effort put into the CAMP program, the black market cannabis industry doesn't appear to be any worse for wear. In fact, these raids are bringing in an increasing amount of dangerously untaxed marijuana each year.

In 2020, CAMP operations seized 1.1 million illegal marijuana plants. That's up from just under 1 million plants seized in 2019, and well above the 614,267 plants taken in 2018, reports the Sacramento Bee.

If the CAMP program were an effective means of eliminating a marijuana black market, one would expect the number of plants seized to be going down, not up.

Indeed, just as a black market existed under the state's formal, blanket ban on marijuana, illegal grow operations are likely going to continue in the new post-prohibition regime. That'll be true as long as these growers can undercut the prices of the formal cannabis economy, with all its red tape and taxes. Because this is California, land use regulations and confusing licensing regimes often make it difficult for budding entrepreneurs to enter this heavily regulated legal market in the first place.

It doesn't look like state officials are rushing to deregulate the cannabis industry any time soon. Bonta said that he is launching a six-month review of the CAMP program. But that review is to refocus the state's efforts on addressing "the environmental, labor, and economic impacts of illegal cultivation."


A shortage of police officers in Seattle is leading the city's business leaders to embrace private security. Over the weekend, local ABC News Radio affiliate KOMO News reported that the Downtown Seattle Association, a business group, has called on the city to use federal COVID-19 relief money to subsidize their rising private security costs.

Business owners say they have had to spend more on private security guards to cope with the downstream effects of a staffing shortage at the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The Seattle Times reports that a lack of police officers has resulted in SPD dispatching detectives and non-patrol officers to respond to emergency calls.

Demands for federal subsidies will please no free marketer. The DSA's proposal nevertheless has a certain element of accidental libertarianism to it. In effect, these downtown businesses are asking for the city to pick up the tab for a partial privatization of policing that's already occurred.

The proposal's gotten a mixed reception from Seattle politicians. Bruce Harwell, former city council president, told KOMO News that it could be a good temporary stopgap measure, but a longer-term solution would need to involve more police funding. Lorena Gonzalez, the city council's current president, said the idea might violate the Washington Constitution's gift clause—which generally prohibits subsidies to specific businesses.

Ironically enough, Seattle's other recent experiment in radical policing alternatives—the short-lived Capitol Hill Occupied Protest or CHOP—also ran into gift clause complaints. Businesses and residents near CHOP sued the city government, arguing its ceding of public roads and parks to this (poorly) self-governed leftist street commune also amounted to an illegal public gift to private interests.

Rather than devote federal funds to subsidizing private security, perhaps Seattle could give downtown businesses a break on the taxes they pay for public safety services that are purportedly not being delivered.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to allow "mix and match" vaccine booster shots. On Wednesday, the agency is expected to announce that people who have received one type of vaccine can get a booster shot of a different type of vaccine, reports the Washington Post.

The federal government will only cover the costs of a mixed booster shot if it's approved by the FDA, reports The New York Times.

But as economist Tyler Cowen notes at Marginal Revolution, people have been topping off their t-cells without the agency's approval already.


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