In recent years, government officials and law enforcement have estimated there were as many as 1,500 to 2,000 illegal grows in Calaveras County.

Now that a ban on commercial cultivation is in place and hundreds of legal, registered pot farmers are out of business, everyone growing large quantities of marijuana in Calaveras County is doing so illegally.

Sheriff Rick DiBasilio, who is running in November as an appointed incumbent to remain the county’s top law enforcement officer, said Friday he sees “a dramatic decrease in grows” so far this year.

In 2018, Calaveras County deputies and assisting agencies have searched and raided 32 locations, made 11 arrests, and seized 57,675 plants, 2,775 pounds of processed marijuana, and 205 pounds of marijuana concentrate, DiBasilio said Friday.

DiBasilio said he does not know how many grows there are in Calaveras County now because he is sure many growers have moved indoors.

Asked what the current budget is for the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team, DiBasilio said, “There is no real MET budget as they are paid out of my patrol budget just like a patrol deputy.”

The 538-page FY 2018-19 recommended budget for Calavera County shows the Sheriff’s Office patrol budget with revenues of $2,287,889, a net increase of $62,329 from 2017-18.

Deputies with the Sheriff’s Office searched two places this week, in Valley Springs and Mountain Ranch, and found allegedly illegal cannabis cultivation at both locations, sheriff’s staff said in an announcement.

The first search was Wednesday on undeveloped private property off South Gulch Road near Milton Road south of Jenny Lind and Valley Springs. Deputies with the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team had a search warrant and they went on up. They came upon three men tending about 40 marijuana plants.

No permanent house or other residence was present on the land, but a travel trailer was. Sheriff’s staff said deputies found a chemical in powder form applied to the marijuana plants, and some of the chemical had spilled on the ground.

Deputies said there was white stain on the ground consistent with the spilled white chemical where the growers had done extensive watering on freshly graded land, with erosion of dirt and flow of water into a nearby drainage. Deputies took photos and they said the white runoff is visible in the photos.

The three men claimed addresses in Oakdale. They were cited for misdemeanor illegal cultivation of marijuana. Deputies said they are continuing to investigate. The names of the men were not released.

The next search was Thursday in the 5800 block of Michel Road, between San Andreas and the town of Mountain Ranch. Deputies with the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team had a search warrant and they found 13 structures they described as hoop houses. They also found two travel trailers, numerous water tanks, generators, bags of trash, and unspecified debris.

Deputies seized, removed and destroyed 7,921 marijuana plants in various stages of maturity. They also seized 342 pounds of processed marijuana and 1.3 ounces of concentrated cannabis. No other people were there.

A month ago in early August, the Sheriff’s Office opened a Mountain Ranch Public Safety Sub-Station, a joint venture with Central Calaveras Fire Protection District and the Mountain Ranch Youth Alliance and Resource Center.

The substation has nothing to do with eradications of marijuana farms, DiBasilio said Friday. It is intended for people to have a place to meet with deputies or fire personnel if needed. Yes, they can report marijuana issues there, however, that is not the main purpose of the substation.

In less than two months, DiBasilio will face challenger Gary Lee Stevens in the race for Calaveras County sheriff. Voters go to the polls Nov. 6.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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