LAYTONVILLE, Calif. — From the sky they look like citrus groves, neat rows of lush emerald-colored plants set amid the hills of Northern California.
But as a police reconnaissance helicopter banked for a closer look on a recent afternoon, the pungent smell of marijuana plants filled the cabin, wafting up from 800 feet below.
“That’s all weed,” squawked a deputy with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s office over the helicopter intercom. “They’re not in the program.”
More than nine months after California voted to legalize recreational marijuana, only a small share of the tens of thousands of cannabis farmers in Northern California have joined the system, according to law enforcement officers and cannabis growers.
Despite the promise of a legal marketplace, many growers are staying in the shadows, casting doubt on the promise of a billion-dollar tax windfall for the state and a smooth switch to a regulated market.
At the same time, environmental damage and crime associated with illegal cannabis businesses remain entrenched in the state despite legalization, law enforcement officials say.
“I know that the numbers don’t look great; there are a lot of folks that aren’t…