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Board mulls lift of county ban on commercial pot


The Board of Supervisors voted this week to collaborate with federal, state and local officials to shut down illegal cannabis grow operations in the Antelope Valley, while agreeing to reconsider a longstanding county ban on commercial marijuana.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger warned three weeks ago that commercial cannabis and hemp grow operations in her district are using dangerous pesticides, stealing water from fire hydrants and frightening neighbors into silence. However, she failed to get support from her colleagues on a plan of action that included tougher criminal penalties and required four votes to pass.

Tuesday, Barger asked for support of a substitute motion co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl that did not include any mention of stricter penalties. It passed unanimously.

“Make no mistake, illegal marijuana grows are something that impacts the entire county of Los Angeles. Illegal growers are using unregulated chemicals to process marijuana (and) selling products to legal and illegal dispensaries in and outside the L.A. Basin, endangering cannabis users,’’ Barger said.

She said two bears had been found poisoned by pesticides near one valley grow operation, and added that the problem is not limited to outdoor crops.

“Outdoor grows expand over multiple areas in the middle of the valley surrounded by debris and trash, while indoor grows have taken over homes in residential areas, converting family homes into suburban cannabis farms,’’ Barger added.

During public comment, residents painted a picture of a lawless environment in which locals were challenged at gunpoint and enforcement was close to nonexistent.

“This is not the Wild West. Our tax paying citizens should be safe in the Fifth District and not be intimidated by cartel thugs,’’ Green Valley Town Councilmember Joe Randles said. “Our groundwater is being contaminated by grow chemicals, our water systems are being compromised by theft, our land is being decimated along with the protected Joshua trees. This is an unfolding disaster.’’

Chris Minsal, a lifelong resident of the north county and president of the Pearblossom Rural Town Council, said he wanted to see commercial cannabis regulated, rather than banned, to generate tax dollars for enforcement against illegal operators.