Monday, July 4, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 18

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 17

Illegal marijuana bust signals larger county problem

By Taylor O'Connor

During the warranted search of a Santa Maria resident’s home, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Cannabis Compliance Team found more than 2 ounces of cocaine, more than 2,000 counterfeit pills (frequently containing fentanyl), more than $5,000 in cash, and an illegally possessed assault weapon with high-capacity magazines, according to the Sheriff’s Office. 

“The suspect, identified as 20-year-old Nathan Mediano, was arrested without incident. Nathan’s brother, 33-year-old Salvador Mediano, was linked to the crimes and was also arrested without incident,” sheriff’s officials said in a statement. 

Sheriff’s detectives found cocaine, counterfeit pills, more than $5,000 in cash, and an illegally possessed assault weapon with high capacity magazines and ammunition in a Santa Maria home.

In a follow-up email, Lt. Robert Minter said that Nathan was booked on suspicion of sale and possession of a controlled substance, violations of health and safety codes, and the illegal sale and distribution of marijuana. Salvador was also booked on suspicion of similar violations possession of a firearm, ammunition, and an illegal assault weapon—all felony charges. 

County 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said this arrest demonstrates a much larger issue at hand for the county. 

“I think we’d be really naive not to believe there are significant illegal drug activities in our community, just like there is in the entire United States,” Lavagnino said. “The legal market cannot compete with the black market. We can’t have a strong legal cannabis market until we eradicate the black market.” 

Investigations of illegal cannabis have stepped away from the large, illegal grows seen in the past, he said, and are moving toward legal, permitted operations skimming some of their product for the black market. 

“We’re starting to get our treasurer-tax collector—who does audits on hotel bed tax and Airbnbs and makes sure they pay their taxes—to audit the top 10 cannabis growers and a random 10 to make sure they are paying full tax and all product is going into the legal market,” Lavagnino explained. 

He said he’s hopeful that audits and spot inspections will push more growers into compliance and limit illegal activity.

Susan Ashbrook, a Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Board member, said this arrest demonstrates a need for more law enforcement. 

“I applaud the Sheriff’s Office for their enforcement efforts, but the fact remains that cannabis enforcement is woefully underfunded in Santa Barbara County. I’m hopeful that busts like this can prove to the county why investing in cannabis enforcement is important,” Ashbrook said in a statement. 

In response, Lavagnino said it’s not enforcement alone that’s going to tackle the illicit cannabis market, rather it’s continued support and investment in the legal market—a challenge that remains due to high cannabis costs and jurisdictional limitations.

“Unfortunately, we still have places that won’t allow for dispensaries and that has an impact as well,” he said. “The city of Santa Maria—the largest city in the county—won’t allow dispensaries even though people vote for it and support it, and that’s rampant throughout the state. If you don’t provide an outlet for the growers, then it’s going to go to the black market; it’s just economics.” 

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