Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced California was moving on from the 40-year-old Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) to the new expanded Effort to Prevent Illicit Cannabis (EPIC) as the DOJ rebrands cannabis enforcement.
The move came almost exactly a year after Bonta announced he would be commissioning a six-month review of the CAMP program. His goals at the time were to ensure resources were being targeted at the environmental, labor, and economic impacts of illegal cultivation. The attorney general’s office noted that since 1983, the 13-week annual CAMP program eradicated more than 33 million illegal cannabis plants.
In its final season, CAMP led to the eradication of nearly 1 million cannabis plants and the seizure of more than 200,000 pounds of processed cannabis during 449 operations across 26 counties. Bonta valued the total haul of the plants taken this year at about $1 billion, which breaks down to $1,000 a plant. And even if the 200,000 pounds were only worth $200 a piece in the most brutal cannabis marketplace in history for farmers currently taking place, that’s still $40 million.
This year’s CAMP actions also led to the seizure of 184 firearms and the removal of 60,000 pounds of cultivation infrastructure.
Beginning this fall, EPIC becomes the state’s biggest cannabis enforcement program and the enforcement model transitions to a year-round task force, as opposed to one only operating at the heart of the growing season and the Harvest. To help put the size of the program into perspective, Bonta said the DOJ will be contributing five times as much staff to EPIC as it did to CAMP.
“California has the largest safe, legal, and regulated cannabis market in the world, but unfortunately illegal and unlicensed grows continue to proliferate,” Bonta told a press conference while announcing EPIC. “The California Department of Justice’s CAMP task force works tirelessly each year to eradicate illegal grows and reclaim our public lands, but shutting down these grows is no longer enough.”
Bonta explained that the CAMP program comes from an era when all cannabis cultivation was illegal and the years since have given way to both recreational and medical markets. Bonta himself was a fan of measured enforcement, as the once underground marketplace got its footing in the newly regulated market during his time as the Assembly’s cannabis champion.
While noting the importance of enforcement, he said he wished his former peers at the state capital had endorsed the enforcement strategies that would have seen the scrutiny on permit holders increase year after year as the market stabilized and they got their feet under them.
“With the transition to EPIC, we’re taking the next step and building out our efforts to address the environmental and economic harms and labor exploitation associated with this underground market,” Bonta said. “I want to thank all our local, state and federal partners for their long-standing collaboration on CAMP and ongoing commitment to tackle this problem through the EPIC task force.”
One thing about the transition to EPIC is the fact the feds are participating in a program with the stated goal of helping to stabilize the California recreational market, by destabilizing the illicit one. That destabilization of the underground cannabis market is the program’s third goal, after the public safety situation around illicit mega grows and people take advantage of migrant labor in nefarious ways.
Karen Mouritsen, California state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), stuck to the environmental aspects of EPIC and CAMP when she spoke after Bonta last week.
“Illegal cultivation of marijuana on public lands continues to be a major problem for California. These illegal operations have a devastating impact on our environment, and the health and safety of communities and public land users,” said Mouritsen. “The BLM is proud to be a part of CAMP’s federal, state and local law enforcement partnership and its mission to protect our public lands and maintain public safety.”
In 2022, CAMP operations were conducted in the following 26 counties:
- Mendocino: 18 sites, 190,018 plants eradicated
- Riverside: 77 sites, 159,287 plants eradicated
- San Bernardino: 41 sites, 138,815 plants eradicated
- Lake: 51 sites, 97,677 plants eradicated
- Kern: 53 sites, 77,837 plants eradicated
- Siskiyou: 52 sites: 68,130 plants eradicated
- Trinity: 22 sites, 46,632 plants eradicated
- Monterey: 11 sites, 37,247 plants eradicated
- Tulare: 30 sites, 27,020 plants eradicated
- Shasta: 19 sites, 26,413 plants eradicated
- San Benito: 1 site, 24,295 plants eradicated
- Los Angeles: 20 sites, 23,492 plants eradicated
- Sacramento: 4 sites, 17,973 plants eradicated
- Fresno: 19 sites, 11,064 plants eradicated
- Madera: 14 sites, 8,757 plants eradicated
- Nevada: 2 sites, 8,279 plants eradicated
- Mariposa: 11 sites, 5,761 plants eradicated
- Ventura: 1 site, 2,370 plants eradicated
- San Diego: 2 sites, 1,510 plants eradicated
- Sonoma: 1 site, 1,407 plants eradicated
- Santa Barbara: reconnaissance only
- Santa Cruz: reconnaissance only
- Santa Clara: reconnaissance only
- Tuolumne: reconnaissance only
- Humboldt: reconnaissance only
- Stanislaus: reconnaissance only
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