Settlement Reached in Illegal California Cannabis Cultivation That Damaged Environment

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As California cracks down on illegal cannabis growing operations, one settlement for $1.75 million was recently approved.

In a news release dated January 23, 2024, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced a settlement had been approved regarding an illegal cannabis cultivation operation in Humboldt County, located in the northwest of the state (1). As part of the settlement, Joshua Sweet, owner of The Hills LLC and Shadow Light Ranch LLC, must pay $1.75 million for destroying wetlands, converting woodlands, and failing to obtain permits required to divert water from nearby streams (1).

A Superior Court judge approved the settlement of the violations, which included the payment of $500,000 to the Division of Water Rights, $175,000 to the North Coast Water Board, and $75,000 to CDFW, all over five years (1).

“It is critical for all cannabis cultivators to be environmentally responsible and protect California’s water supply and water quality,” stated Taro Murano, program manager for the cannabis enforcement section of the State Water Board’s Division of Water Rights (1). “Sweet chose to operate his business while ignoring regulations designed to protect the environment. He must now remediate the environmental damage he caused and pay a significant penalty. No one should get a business advantage by ignoring the law and harming the environment.”


The North Coast region of the state, which includes Humboldt County, accounts for 35% of the state’s freshwater runoff (1).

“This case represents years of hard work by dedicated staff to remediate damage to streambed channels, wetland habitat and oak woodlands,” said Nathaniel Arnold, acting chief of law enforcement for the CDFW (1). “The settlement also speaks volumes to the egregious nature of this case and should send a strong message to those working outside of state regulations to cultivate cannabis. Our natural resources deserve to be respected.”

The CDFW also recently published a 2023 recap of activities completed by the Unified Cannabis Enforcement Taskforce (UCETF), which was created in 2022 to decrease illegal cannabis operations in the state and reduce their impact on the environment (2). Last year, the UCETF seized over 189,000 pounds of cannabis, eradicated over 317,000 plants, and served 188 search warrants (2).

“We’ve sent a strong message that illegal operations that harm our natural resources, threaten the safety of workers, and put consumer health at risk have no place in California,” stated Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the UCETF as part of the recap (2).


  1. CDFW News: Court approves $1.75 million settlement for cannabis cultivator’s environmental violations (accessed Jan 29, 2024).
  2. CDFW News: California seizes over $312m in unlicensed cannabis during Task Force’s first calendar year of operation (accessed Jan 29, 2024).