Cannabis Cultivation Law Enforcement

law enforcement actions related to cannabis cultivation

Law enforcement is a critical component of California’s transition into a regulated cannabis industry. CDFW's wildlife officers are fully fledged peace officers authorized to enforce all laws of the State of California. CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division (LED):

  • Works with growers to bring their facilities into compliance,
  • Provides assistance in remediating criminal environmental violations,
  • Works with other agencies to remove illegal grows, growers, illegal water impoundments, and extremely toxic chemicals frequently associated with illegal grows, and
  • Protects California’s unique, beautiful, and diverse natural resources.

Cannabis cultivation has the potential to affect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats (learn more about cannabis and the environment). Inspections have led to violations for water diversions and storage, grading, chemical use, wildlife threats, timber conversion, and public safety. Between 2013 and early 2018, more than 700 inspections resulted in 399 tons of trash removed from public and private lands including: 2.4 million feet of irrigation pipe, 50 tons of fertilizer, and 465 gallons of chemicals (many illegal in the US). In addition, the removal of 709 dams and water diversions resulted in restoration of 800 million gallons of water back into local watersheds.

To cultivate cannabis legally within California, cultivators must have 1) a California Department of Food and Agriculture(opens in new tab) (CDFA) license, 2) local authorization or permit, and 3) a CDFW Lake and Streambed Alteration (LSA) Agreement or letter stating an Agreement is not necessary. Other permits may be necessary depending on the project. A CDFW LSA Agreement is one part of the regulatory process, and alone, it is not sufficient to meet the State of California’s cannabis cultivation licensing requirements.

CDFW law enforcement efforts will help bring the cannabis industry into better compliance with environmental laws, will allow permitted growers in compliance with environmental laws to have an advantage over those who are not, and will result in an industry that provides a safer cannabis product to the public, cultivated with reduced impact to the environment.

NEWS: Judge Holds Land Owner Liable for Cultivation - Related Environmental Crimes. Read the court decision text (PDF)(opens in new tab)

What is illegal cultivation?

Illegal cannabis cultivation is cultivation outside of compliance with environmental laws and regulations, cultivation without permits from all applicable jurisdictions, or cultivation by persons prohibited by a court order. A common misconception is that only trespass grows on public or private property are illegal. This is false. If you are growing cannabis commercially on public or private property, with or without the consent of the property owner, and you do not have both a state license and local authorization, your grow is illegal and subject to immediate enforcement. Enforcement may include the seizure and destruction of your crop. State law allows for medical collectives to operate until January 9, 2019 without a state license, but the burden is on the collective to demonstrate compliance with the law.

How does Law Enforcement prioritize enforcement actions?

canine enforcement officerCDFW Law Enforcement works collaboratively with the link opens in new windowState Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), link opens in new windowCDFA, and other allied local and state agencies to identify illegal grows on public and private land. CDFW may also work with each county’s planning and code enforcement department to bring non-compliant grows on private lands into compliance. Law Enforcement determines enforcement priorities based on several factors:

  • Science-based watershed priorities,
  • Comments and complaints by the public and other permitted growers, and
  • Priorities developed with other agencies.

How does Law Enforcement prioritize watersheds?

CDFW identifies, prioritizes, and inspects threatened watersheds. To identify threatened watersheds, CDFW evaluates:

  • Listed species presence,
  • Declines in fish population,
  • Increases in sedimentation,
  • Decreases in water quality and quantity, and
  • High-use watersheds.

Working with scientists, other agencies, and environmental information, CDFW Law Enforcement determines where best to focus enforcement effort.

What is the Marijuana Enforcement Team?

The Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) team includes CDFW Law Enforcement Officers dedicated to eradicating trespass grows on state and federal lands. These grows are typically associated with criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking organizations and pose a significant danger to the public and the environment. MET’s primary focus is apprehending illegal cultivators trespassing on public lands and the reclamation of public lands impacted by illegal marijuana cultivation sites.

Read an illegal cultivation eradication and restoration link opens in new windowsuccess story (PDF).

What is the Watershed Enforcement Program?

law enforcement at cannabis siteCDFW’s Watershed Enforcement Program (WEP) works collaboratively with the link opens in new windowState Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and link opens in new windowCDFA to prevent, investigate, enforce, and remediate environmental damage resulting from cannabis cultivation on private lands. As a multiagency task force, CDFW, SWRCB, and CDFA work collaboratively to identify unpermitted or unlicensed sites. During an inspection, CDFW will document the environmental impact from any Fish and Game Code violations, and the SWRCB will document the impact from violations of the Water Code. CDFW Law Enforcement may arrest those on site for state law violations and may, in some cases seize, or destroy crops.

The Watershed Enforcement Teams (WET) implement WEP objectives and include enforcement, permitting, and scientific staff. Depending on the inspection, additional entities may participate: Regional Water Quality Control Boards, local law enforcement, county planning officials, or others. These teams focus on impacts from unpermitted cannabis cultivation on private property including, but not limited to:

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation, 
  • Degraded riparian and wetland habitat, 
  • Reduction of instream flow, 
  • Improper pond construction and stream crossings, and 
  • Improper road building and grading.

What is remediation?

Remediation is the process of stopping or reducing harmful impacts to the environment. Remediation can reduce or eliminate impacts to fish and wildlife and their habitats. CDFW works with landowners to remediate project sites. Common site remediation activities include, but are not limited to, installation of erosion control measures, installing properly sized culverts, screening water diversions, stabilizing streambanks, and replanting native vegetation.

channel crossing before and after restoration

The images above show stream crossing upgrades and restoration efforts along a bladed low-flow stream in Lassen County.

erosion before and after restoration

The images above show a severely eroded cultivation pad constructed with decomposed granitic soils. The site was re-contoured and protected with jute fiber blankets and stabilized with native seeds. Straw bales further control sediment discharge at the toe of the slope.

Codes and penalties

There are additional penalties for violations of Fish and Game Code sections link opens in new window1602 (substantial diversions, obstructions, or use of stream), link opens in new window5650 (water pollution), and/or link opens in new window5652 (disposal of trash near a water body) in connection with the production or cultivation of a controlled substance (i.e., cannabis). The penalty may be up to $40,000 per violation when associated with a trespass cannabis grow on public or private land. The penalty may be up to $20,000 per violation when associated with a non-trespass cannabis grow (on land owned/leased/or used with permission by the owner), and each day a violation “occurs or continues to occur” constitutes a separate violation (FGC § 12025(b)(2)).

CDFW may refer violators to the county district attorney or California Attorney General for criminal or civil action. Additionally, CDFW has the authority to impose civil penalties on those found to have violated Fish and Game Code sections 1602, 5650 and/or 5652 in connection with the production or cultivation of a controlled substance (i.e., cannabis) on public or private lands.


Members of the public remain our best source of information related to illegal cannabis cultivation. If you witness a polluting or poaching incident, a fish and game code violation, or have information about a violation, call CalTIP 1-888-334-CALTIP (888-334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Or download the CalTip App. The CalTip App provides an anonymous two-way conversation with wildlife officers. The CalTip App is free at link opens in new windowGoogle Play Store and link opens in new windowiTunes App Store.