California Counties Expand Use of Satellite Images to Identify Illegal Grow Sites

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors may direct staff at tonight’s meeting to determine whether satellite technology can help the county identify illegal grow sites. County staff states that the technology will cut enforcement costs and increase tax revenues.

Mendocino County is closing the first phase of its cannabis cultivation licensing process on October 4, 2019. During this phase, the county is allocating permits to those persons or entities that offer proof that cannabis was cultivated on the proposed site prior to January 1, 2016.

The Mendocino Cannabis Association is against the county’s plan to use satellite technology. The MCA suggests that the county should instead extend the permitting deadline and upgrade its cannabis licensing technology. The association also believes that shutting down illegal grow sites will negatively impact the county as violators will sell or abandon their properties.

Mendocino County is among a number of California counties that are using satellite technology to enforce cannabis code compliance including El Dorado County, which recently issued an RFP for the services. Humboldt County was the first to use satellite imagery as a means of identifying the estimated 15,000 illegal grow sites that existed in the county at the time of legalization.

Humboldt currently uses the technology to monitor the county’s 4,000 square miles of rugged terrain for environmental issues and unpermitted cannabis cultivation. During the pilot year, county staff identified 600 illegal cultivation sites remotely and issued violation notices. Since then, the county has brought in $2 million dollars in fines.

California counties are embracing innovative solutions to combat large areas of coverage that are often include rugged terrain. It still remains to be seen how this technology will be deployed after hemp cultivation becomes more prevalent. Humboldt County may again offer a solution that distinguishes hemp from cannabis crops. Humbold should consider addressing this issue when it finalizes its hemp cultivation rules in the near future.

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