Authorities from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department last week seized about 20 tons of cannabis and 350,000 plants on a plot of land outside Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley after a two-month investigation into a fraudulent growing operation, officials said.
Detectives believe the growers obtained fraudulent temporary and provisional cannabis licenses for cultivation on about 187 acres of land, with more than 60 acres being used for the cultivation of cannabis, according to a news release from the department.
It took four days to seize the cannabis and destroy about 350,000 plants, some of which were ready to harvest, the department said. Authorities executed four search warrants, including in the city of Santa Maria, in San Luis Obispo County and in the 1800 block of West Highway 246, outside Buellton.
The investigation was the result of complaints and tips from the public. The owner of the property hasn’t been located, the department aid.
Santa Barbara County officials have tried to lure cannabis cultivation to the area, and farms in the county hold 35% of all cultivation licenses issued in the state this year, despite only having 1.8% of the state’s land.
County supervisors voted not to limit the size and number of growing operations, and decided to tax them based off gross revenue instead of licensed square footage. As a result, some wine-tasting rooms in the area downwind of growers can be filled with the smell of pot, and rolling vineyards and country estates are interrupted by rows of plastic-covered grow houses.
The Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office is reviewing the case to decide if criminal charges will be filed.