Unveiling a plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a pilot program in order to inhibit the proliferating number of illegal cannabis growers in Nevada County.
Craig Griesbach, director of housing, and Jeff Merriman, director of code compliance, co-lead a presentation of the high tech tool. Griesbach said the Unmanned Aircraft Systems — drones — will not only compel numerous illegal growers into compliance, but added they’re also more efficient, and assure greater safety for code compliance officers. They’re also less expensive than other surveillance methods.
There are an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 illegal growers in the county, according to a Civil Grand Jury report published in May.
In a 4-to-1 vote, supervisors passed the $10,000 pilot program that is expected to be implemented in April. Supervisor Heidi Hall opposed.
“Illegal growers are a problem,” Hall said. “But there are many issues of privacy. How do we handle the photos when they come back?”
Supervisor Hardy Bullock, a pilot, called the drones an imperfect yet valuable tool.
“I’m aware of staffing recruitment needs and high level supervision, but this is a community preservation issue,” he said. “By singling out illegal growers we actually support permitted growers, so I’m in support as long as we interject strict guidelines.”
Griesbach said drones are considerably less expensive than using planes or helicopters, which can cost up to $900 per flight, while drones can make several flights per case to gather sufficient evidence at far less expense. He also explained the process will still be complaint driven by neighbors who witness illegal grows.
Drones will file a flight plan, and follow only public right-of-way routes. All data collected will follow strict privacy guidelines, and drone pilots will complete 15 hours training and must then pass