California saw a record increase in the number of marijuana plants eradicated this year.
Nearly 5.3 million plants were seized from private and public lands through the combined efforts of several state and national drug control departments in 2008.
Agents seized almost 1.4 million plants with an estimated street value of $4.2 billion as part of Operation Green Acres 2, one of several operations conducted this year. Approximately 1.2 million of those plants were eradicated from public lands, a 73 percent increase from last year.
“We got more calls from people fed up with people coming from bordering states and countries growing plants,” said Mendocino county Sheriff Office’s Captain Kurt Smallcomb. “Marijuana has numerous negative economic, environmental and criminal results. There’s more violent crime and no tax base for these illegal substances. Not to mention that water is exposed to these terrible toxins.“
The number of arrests increased from 53 people in 2007 to 143 this year, the press release said. There was also a jump of 142 weapons seized this year compared to 41 in 2007. Weapons included handguns, assault rifles and shotguns. Prison time ranges from three years to life depending on a variety of factors, including additional charges, number of plants seized, prior arrests, weapons and possession.
“Due to the illegal nature of what they are involved in, it is not uncommon for these individuals to attempt to flee from law enforcement,” said special agent Michelle Gregory, spokesperson for the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. “Law enforcement faces the risk of violence (shootings) because of these illegal growers.“
Allen St. Pierre, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, disagrees.
“It’s unfortunate that police officers die unnecessarily in helicopter crashes while looking for marijuana,” St. Pierre said. “Prohibition isn’t a way to control illegal plant growing. Fruits, wheat and barley all are toxins, and they are not a problem unless made illegal. Cannabis becomes more popular in places like California where there is a gray market with medical marijuana. We’re wasting valuable tax dollars on trying to eradicate it.“
Government officials say the cultivation presents too great a risk to be left untouched. Pesticides, chemical repellants, poisons and fuels are often used in large-scale, outdoor marijuana cultivation, the DEA press release said. Attempts to irrigate the marijuana crops often harm nearby ecology including creeks, streams and rivers. These plants are often under surveillance by their caretakers, who, in many instances, are heavily armed with pre-planned escape routes, according to the press release.
“Our forests and public lands cannot and will not be allowed to become safe havens for Mexican drug cartels operating massive marijuana cultivations,” said U.S. attorney McGregor Scott in a written statement. “These criminal enterprises pose great risk to those simply seeking to enjoy these lands in the manner for which they were intended.“
St. Pierre says he doesn’t buy it.
“The irony is that to eradicate the marijuana it’s put into pits and lit on fire with kerosene. All of which are detrimental to the environment. It’s used as hemp in Canada [a product used to make paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food and fuel]. In the U.S. it’s burned for media cameras, while it’s a valued commodity for rest of the world,” St. Pierre said.
Others see solutions to the problem in legalization.
“The solution is to regulate and tax marijuana like alcoholic beverages,” said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “You don’t hear about gangs trying to grow vineyards in national parks. These eradications are all a part of a pattern – a pattern that is detached from reality and drives prices up, enriching and empowering criminals.“
The plants taken were not ones for medical purposes.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.
Marijuana plants were seized and eradicated from the following counties in 2008:
Lake: 499,508 plants
Source: Drug Enforcement Administration