Illegal cannabis farms hurt licensed farmers and also pose a very real danger to the community at large. Nevada County building director Craig Griesbach claims that two illegal sites were linked to wildfires.
“One of the fire events happened during the Jones Fire of 2020, pulling air attack resources off the Jones Fire to address this concurrent threat to life and property,” Griesbach said. “Cannabis-related violations, including generators that were not permitted on both sites, could have been verified with the use of (drone) technology and therefore mitigated before these fires started.”
To help fight fires before they start, Nevada County is launching a pilot program using drones to spot illegal cannabis grow sites.
“Cannabis Compliance Division field staff will be the only staff licensed to utilize this tool,” said Jeff Merriman, county code and compliance divisions program manager.
The program will require 10 to 15 hours of training, a mandatory licensing exam, and an annual test, through the Federal Aviation Administration, to hold a drone pilot license.
“We acknowledge the county needs to verify these sites,” said Gammon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance. “Our organization remains concerned with drones as the primary tool for verification, and instead supports existing tools, such as planes, to obtain the required information.”
As cannabis prices plummet in California due to an overabundance of product, the incentive to enter the industry is currently at a low point. The industry needs nurturing and protection.
“To ensure our industry succeeds, our focus in Nevada County must be to support our existing cannabis businesses by creating opportunity for additional license types, including tourism opportunities,” Gammon said.
The drone program is already drawing interest on the federal level. A House appropriations committee — supported by Maine Representative Chellie Pingree, who chairs the Appropriations Interior & Environment Subcommittee, and Ohio Representative Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus — backed efforts to identify illicit grow operations on California public lands.