Thirty-two percent of cannabis complaints couldn’t be confirmed in Nevada County because of locked gates, fences and other visual obstructions.
Two of those unverifiable sites ended up as wildfires, said Craig Griesbach, county building director.
“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,” said Griesbach. “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.”
A pilot program involving the use of drones to spot illegal cannabis grows is set to start this spring in Nevada County.
A one-time cost of $10,000 that covers the tools and staff training is a general fund allocation, said Jeff Merriman, county code and compliance divisions program manger.
“Costs will be recovered through the issuance and payment of administrative fines associated to cannabis enforcement activities,” he added.
Officials anticipate they’ll purchase equipment and perform staff training from now through March. The program will last from May through August 2022. From November 2022 through February 2023, there will be a review of program activity, data and a report to supervisors.
“Cannabis Compliance Division field staff will be the only staff licensed to utilize this tool,” Merriman said. He said there will be 10 to 15 hours of training. There’s also a required licensing exam and annual testing to maintain the drone pilot license, which is done through the Federal Aviation Administration.
Merriman said his department is specifically looking for cannabis cultivation that is not permitted.
“This will include plants, but may also include other violations such as greenhouses, grading, electrical or other operations associated with cannabis cultivation that has not already been