California Adds More Grow Licenses, Illegal Growing Still Rising

marijuana grower in california

Over 1.1 million illegal cannabis plants were seized in 2020 alone. But with Cali distributing more grow licenses, one might expect that fewer illegal grows would pop up.

California’s recreational cannabis sales started in January 2018, and even though many operations have gone the legal route, we still see illegal growth expanding each year.

State license issuance started in 2018, too. But there isn’t any data available for this year due to the fact that these were temporary licenses. The data sets start in 2019, which is when the state began issuing 12-month annual and provisional licenses through online licensing systems. These licenses stay active for a year before they must be renewed to obtain another 12 months.

The last three years, the state issued 8,229 licenses in 2019, 2,763 in 2020, and 2,280 in 2021. California brought in around $778 million throughout the first nine months of 2020.

Humboldt, Santa Barbara, and Monterey counties issued more than half of the state’s cultivation licenses. But Lake County has been on the rise, expanding its license issuance from 80 cultivation licenses in 2019 to 360 in 2021.

But not everyone is interested in growing cannabis legally.

Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) was established in 1983. Since then, it has involved over 110 law enforcement agencies to handle illegal cannabis grows.

While the number of sites eradicated have gone up since then, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that we really saw this number begin to explode. The peak was in 2009 when CAMP eradicated 4.46 million illegal cannabis plants.

The number of illegal cannabis grow sites has continued to grow. But many have gotten better at hiding their operations. Despite this being the case, since 2011, CAMP has eradicated between 235 and 497 grow sites annually.

With California distributing more cannabis cultivation licenses, it’s safe to say that the growers interested in becoming legitimate operations have the ability to make it happen. However, not all growers want to serve the legal space.

Due to strict regulations and overly complex processes, many growers choose to serve the black market. While they can grow legally, the fact of the matter still stands: there’s money to be made with illegal plants, and those willing to risk their freedom do so to earn massive profits.

Louis Levey is the Content Success Manager and Founder at No Strings Content. He's passionate about helping cannabis businesses use content to attract, educate, and convert audiences. His hometown is Boca Raton, Florida, but he currently lives and works remotely in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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