NEEDLES — More than 300 marijuana plants were seized at an unlicensed cannabis facility in Needles over the weekend after public safety and law enforcement personnel responded to a fire call.

“Around 5:38 p.m. (on Saturday) the San Bernardino County Fire Department and the Colorado River Station of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department responded to the call of a residential fire,” said Adrian Chavez, senior code enforcement officer for the city of Needles. “The city responded to the scene around 6:10 p.m.”

The structure fire in the 800 block of Market Street uncovered an illegal marijuana growing operation.

Needles City Manager Rick Daniels said this was the fourth unlicensed cannabis facility that has been shut down in Needles.

The City of Needles, in a prepared statement Monday, said the fire was caused by a non-permitted electrical bypass. Once fire department personnel had extinguished the fire, they found an indoor marijuana grow area in the garage of the residence.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Marijuana Team removed 338 marijuana plants, chemicals and grow equipment from the residence.

“Because there were chemicals in the residence, hazmat suits had to be used,” said Daniels.

Daniels confirmed that the plants were taken by the sheriff’s department and will be destroyed.

“The building has been red-tagged unsafe which means that no one is allowed access except for city staff and the sheriff’s department,” said Chavez.

Needles is cracking down on illicit cannabis activity and, according to city officials, will move forward with the administrative process, which could include a $1,000 fine per plant violation for the plants in addition to the building code violations. 

In order to make sure that all the marijuana cultivations are licensed, the city works closely with the State of California which has developed CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing. The program is a division of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which ensures the public safety and environmental protection by licensing and regulating commercial cannabis cultivators in California. Needles Code Enforcement officers are involved to ensure that not only the Needles municipal code is enforced and taxes collected, but also that California state laws regarding cannabis cultivation and records of sales are kept.

“The city’s goal is full compliance at all times,” said Chavez.

“The city takes enforcement serious,” said Daniels. “We are grateful for the help that the sheriff’s department and fire department provided. It was a good interagency effort.”

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