In a statement, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said the initial tip kicked off a joint investigation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A search warrant was executed on 11 field (more than 459 acres in total) in the Arvin area on Oct. 25, at which point the Kern County Sheriff’s Office narcotics division seized and ultimately destroyed an estimated 10 million marijuana plants. According to CNN, the estimated street value was more than $1 billion.
"These illicit marijuana gardens were grown under the guise of legitimate hemp production," a Kern County Sheriff's Office rep said. "The Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code define industrial hemp has containing less than 0.3 percent THC content. The research exemption allows for cultivators to grow and possess hemp/cannabis that is over 0.3 percent THC content, 'if that cultivation or possession contributes to the development of types of industrial hemp that will comply with the three-tenths of 1 percent THC limit established in this division.'"
The rep also noted that this provision doesn’t allow for the commercial sale of hemp or cannabis over this threshold. The investigation is ongoing.
While California wisely enacted the legalization of recreational marijuana back in 2016, authorities say the black market is still alive due in part to a desire from some to avoid the related taxes. On Monday, state authorities announced that they had seized more than $1.5 billion worth of illegal marijuana in fiscal year 2019, a period that does not include the Arvin bust.
"Our participation works to prevent this illegal market in order to promote a fair market place for those growers, producers, and vendors who choose to operate within the system that the voters approved," California National Guard Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator Colonel Robert Paoletti said, noting the presence of a "large unlicensed black market" in the state.