LA Sheriff: Feds May Target California Marijuana Growers, Businesses

By Kelly Burch 03/10/17

The Sheriff speculates that federal agents will make an example of California due to the state's legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016.

LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell
LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell Photo via YouTube

The sheriff of Los Angeles County believes that federal drug agents will step up marijuana enforcement in California in response to the state legalizing recreational pot, but he also doubts that federal agencies have the manpower to make a significant impact. 

Speaking with the Associated Press earlier this week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said it’s likely that federal raids will target marijuana growers and businesses in California. 

"To be able to set the tone, they may do that," he said, according to US News & World Report

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office is the largest in the nation, with deputies patrolling nearly 4,000 square miles of Southern California. Covering such a large area is already challenging, and McDonnell expects more work now that marijuana has been legalized in the state. 

To prepare, he said that he and other members of his department have studied crime rates in Washington and Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for years. He is particularly concerned about the effect that the new policy will have on drivers, who may be more likely to operate a vehicle while intoxicated. Proving drugged driving is still very challenging for officers.

"We don't have anything where it's similar to getting a blood-alcohol content level, as we would do in the field now," McDonnell said. "Without a definitive metric to be able to go to court with that — an index if you will — it's going to be difficult to go to court and get the prosecutions the way we [do] for alcohol.”

Overall, McDonnell said that Californians need to prepare for a potential "health crisis” brought on by the legalization of recreational marijuana, which goes into effect on January 1, 2018. 

"We've seen an increase of the number of kids, in particular, admitted to emergency rooms for ingestion of edibles that in a young kid could be fatal," McDonnell said. "Somebody cuts a corner of a brownie, do they get the full ingestion of THC that was supposed to go into that whole plate of brownies or do they get nothing? There's no control.”

McDonnell’s prediction about federal enforcement may be justified. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed that he is not open to relaxing marijuana laws. 

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he said in February. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.