California Sheriff’s Office Raids Model Cannabis Farm

marijuana businessArroyo Verde farm, owned by Barry Brand in Carpinteria, was considered a prime example of how a legal cannabis business could flourish under close regulation from Santa Barbara County. Then in January, a sheriff-led raid of the farm found evidence to suggest the farm was not only selling licensed products, but also selling products on the illicit market too.

This came as a surprise to some. Barry Brand had a reputation among county officials and industry investors as an honest businessman.

He was so well trusted by officials, that when a licensed cultivator property tour was given by the county to show reporters just how well cannabis regulations were going, Brand’s farm was chosen. Ironically, the tour intended, among other things, to demonstrate just how impossible it would be for a grower to siphon off crop to sell on the illicit market.

At Carpinteria’s Arroyo Verde, greenhouses spanning some 300,000 square feet are home to the sprawling rows of marijuana grown by Brand. After a county sheriff uncovered something that seemed amiss with this otherwise upstanding outfit, a search warrant was served. During the January 22 search of the farm, an extraction lab, a stash of cannabis oil concentrate weighing in excess of 100 gallons, and “off-book” sales evidence were discovered. All pointing to illegal business activity.

No Surprise for Locals
Lionel Neff, who has been critical of the sudden rise in the area’s cannabis cultivation of late, said “no one was surprised” when Arroyo Verde farm was raided. Brand is one of a number of local cannabis growers blamed for injecting a stench into Carpinteria’s usually clean, fresh air.

“If they were good operators, they would have taken the community into account from the beginning.”

It seems Brand’s activity in the community may also have helped his business dealings. Since 2018, votes from county supervisors have allowed cannabis cultivators to grow crop with little if any vetting, in unlimited number and size. This ruling has seen the county’s identity quickly change, from one known for its scenic coastline and wine-tasting, to that of the Golden State’s new and unlikely hot spot for marijuana growing.

Together with other prominent growers in the area, Brand has been very involved in shaping cannabis policies, making political campaign donations, and hiring attorneys, lobbyists and communications agencies.

Resistance from Residents
Clashes with residents from Santa Maria to the south coast arose, when an unregulated rush on planting in the area took hold. Local school children and neighbors from the seaside town complained to county officials of the plant’s smell filling the air. Others did contend the local economy would benefit a great deal from the newly generated tax revenue, but to date, much of those anticipated tax dollars are yet to eventuate.

An Investigation Ongoing
The investigation of Brand continues. Initially, the sheriff’s office searched four parcels belonging to Brand under suspicion he was “growing and processing marijuana outside of the licensed parcel as well as possessing and selling cannabis crude (oil) without a license,” according to sheriff spokeswoman, Raquel Zick.

During the raid, detectives also found “off-book (black market) marijuana sales associated with the farm,” cannabis that was illegally stored and weighed approximately 20 pounds, a small and delicate extraction lab, and “1000 pounds of cannabis crude.” It’s estimated that quantity of cannabis crude would garner a street value anywhere between $1.1 and $1.6 million if sold on California’s regulated market, but industry insiders say it could fetch much more if sold interstate.

Our Orange County marijuana business lawyers assume that when Brand gave 100 members of the community a tour of his farm just prior to the sheriff’s office issuing the search warrant, he probably didn’t show them a delicate extraction lab on his property, which could potentially have exploded if not used with the utmost precision.

Implications
Evidence found during the raid of Arroyo Verde farm demonstrates just how little county officials may actually know about the cannabis business operations they approve to receive state cannabis licensing. Given that county officials have looked only sparingly into the business dealings of farmers who are politically connected thus far, this investigation (albeit, ongoing) shows us it would be wise to look more closely in future.

Separately, any board voting to allow cannabis cultivators to have-at-it with minimal oversight, in a climate where illicit market activity is rife, also poses a potential red flag. A fine example of why an industry as young as California’s marijuana industry, needs checks and balances set in place and upheld, both for the good of the industry, and to keep business owners honest.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Carpinteria School Board Takes Marijuana Money – Los Angeles Times (Nov. 10, 2019)

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