The following is a press release issued by the California Attorney General Rob Bonta:
Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced an innovative new partnership with the City of Fresno to tackle unlicensed, illegal commercial cannabis activities. The agreement signed today makes the city of Fresno the first in the state to participate in the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Cannabis Administrative Prosecutor Program (CAPP). The program provides California cities and counties who partner with DOJ legal support to address illegal cannabis activity through administrative enforcement and nuisance abatement. CAPP will provide vital support to local governments who sign on by increasing the scope of illicit cannabis enforcement; providing resources and education to build enforcement programs; and providing cost-effective evidence collection that could lead to large-scale, statewide prosecution of those involved in illegal cannabis activity. This cooperative effort between DOJ and local jurisdictions leverages the administrative enforcement powers of cities and counties and will supplement the important criminal and civil enforcement efforts being undertaken by the Department of Cannabis Control and the Governor’s Unified Cannabis Enforcement Task Force, which is led by the Department of Cannabis Control and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Complex problems require creative and collaborative solutions,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “This innovative new program allows my office to better support local governments in our collective efforts to tackle illegal cannabis activities, and we are confident that this new cost-effective program will have dramatic and measurable effects. I thank the City of Fresno for their partnership and look forward to working together through this new approach to hold participants in the illegal cannabis market accountable.”
“Our partnership is aimed at assisting the local legitimate cannabis industry and help grow the Fresno’s tax base,” said Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz. “It is my hope that this, first-of-a-kind joint venture between the Fresno City Attorney’s and the Office of the Attorney General will be a model for other large cities. For far too long, these underground operations have targeted children and minors without fear of retribution. This inventive new approach will seek to put an end to that.”
Despite the legalization of cannabis in California in 2016 through the voter-approved Adult Use of Marijuana Act, unlicensed cannabis activities remain a significant problem in the state. In fact, illegal operators make up the majority of California cannabis activity. The city of Fresno, like many communities throughout California, is impacted by the illegal cannabis market — whether it be illegal cultivation, manufacturing, or retail sales.
DOJ, along with state, federal, and local law enforcement partners continue to target illegal cannabis sites and establishments. Through their illegal activities, these operators threaten the environment, violate workers’ rights, harm public safety, and also cause economic harm to legal operators and the state. Throughout the state, law enforcement, including DOJ, have eradicated hundreds of millions of illegal cannabis plants in recent years. In October 2022, Attorney General Bonta provided the results of DOJ’s 2022 seasonal work to eradicate a total of 973,894 cannabis plants from 449 illicit cannabis grow sites in 26 counties across California; seize over 200,000 pounds of processed cannabis and 184 weapons; remove over 33 tons of cultivation infrastructure, 538.2 tons of fertilizer, 622.2 miles of water line, 33.4 gallons of hazardous/restricted use poisons, 1,180 20-pound propane tanks, and 45 dams or illegally constructed reservoirs and water diversions. Also in 2022, Attorney General Bonta announced a new year-round task force, the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC) task force, to allow DOJ to build out its cannabis enforcement work and investigate and prosecute civil and criminal cases with a focus on environmental, economic, and labor impacts from illegal cultivation.
The CAPP Program builds on this work by adding an additional strategy through partnerships with local jurisdictions. By treating illegal cannabis activity as a public nuisance, a land-use issue, and like any other illegal business practice, DOJ’s new partnership with local jurisdictions such as Fresno, will use cost-effective, expedient, and efficient administrative enforcement methods that will hold those who profit by illegal cannabis activity accountable through the issuance of citations, notices of violations, and orders to abate the illegal activity. If cited, illegal operators will have an opportunity to voluntarily shut down their operation, or face the eradication of unlicensed commercial cannabis cultivation or the cessation of unlicensed retail or manufacturing activity, as well as an order authorizing the recovery of enforcement costs.
DOJ, through its Cannabis Control Section, will provide the following support to the city of Fresno, and other local jurisdictions who sign onto the CAPP program to address illegal cultivation by:
- Provide attorneys to act as administrative prosecutors before local administrative hearing bodies or officers and, where necessary, assist with the development of procedures for expedited administrative enforcement.
- Assist with investigative services through the EPIC program and its partnerships with other agencies.
- If necessary, perform the administrative work necessary to provide notices, including assisting in facilitating administrative procedures, and assisting with logistical issues through the use of private process servers, contract code compliance officers, and abatement contractors.
The program is designed to be self-funded as DOJ staff, in coordination with the local government, will seek to recover costs through fines, enforcement actions, stipulated administrative orders, settlements, and abatement liens. Any funding received that exceeds the cost of services provided as part of this MOU will be held by the city of Fresno.