RECORD YEAR FOR POT SEIZURES
Sheriff Reports Marijuana Haul Worth $14 Billion
Los Angeles County sheriff's officials announced Monday the department seized an estimated $14 billion in marijuana this season, which they believe is the largest one-year haul ever.
Found largely in outdoor pot farms in the forest, the plants are primarily grown by Mexican cartels, officials said.
"I believe this is probably the highest season in ... history," said Lt. Joe Nu ez of the sheriff's Narcotics Bureau.
This year also saw the largest single seizure of pot in United States history, according to sheriff's officials.
The Marijuana Enforcement Team team in August found a 116,000-plant farm in mountains of the Angeles National Forest above San Dimas.
It took 40 people two days to chop down the crop, bundle it and fly it out by helicopter.
The pot was estimated to be worth nearly $500 million, officials said, and shattered the previous record of about 85,000 plants seized in a single bust by the MET team in 2007.
"I believe this is the largest marijuana grow in the United States," Sheriff Lee Baca said of the bust.
Pot was seized in the forest above San Dimas several times this year, and officials return annually to find new outdoor marijuana grows, Lt. Phil Abner of the sheriff's Narcotics Bureau said.
In all, this year saw a 30percent increase in the amount of marijuana seized by the Sheriff's Department compared to last year, officials said.
Officials also noted that large-scale marijuana cultivation has steadily increased in recent years.
"The vast majority of these grows are being operated by the Mexican cartels," sheriff's Capt. Dennis Werner said.
In addition to the illegal drug activity, forest pot farms pose both environmental risks and safety risks to those using the forest legally, Baca said.
"( The growers ) also leave behind mounds of trash and human waste," the sheriff said.
Chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers are often carelessly discarded and pose a risk of contaminating the forest, Baca said.
Furthermore, the marijuana groves are often guarded by armed gardeners, posing a serious threat to any hiker, biker or hunter who may wander into a grow site, sheriff's officials said.
In addition to the 360,000 marijuana plants seized this year by the MET team, officials made five arrests, confiscated 15 guns and removed tons of trash and chemicals from the forest, Baca said.
In recent decades, marijuana has become significantly more potent that it used to be, Baca said.
A single marijuana plant can yield from $4,000 to $7,000 worth of marijuana, Abner said.
California's Compassionate Use Act, which permits marijuana use for medical reasons, may also be contributing to an increase in pot farms, Abner said.
The marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up since provide an additional marker for pot growers, who may sell their crops to the dispensaries, he said.
A MET deputy who identified himself only as "Bob" for security reasons said the outdoor marijuana busts, which are carried out in the heat of summer, are tough work.
"It's very hot. There's rattlesnakes out there, and all kinds of insects," the MET deputy said. "It's very physically demanding."
But keeping drugs off the street and making the forest safe is rewarding, he said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the California State Parks Service and the California Department of Justice all participated in the marijuana seizures, officials said.
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom
Pubdate: Tue, 11 Nov 2008
Source: San Gabriel Valley Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2008 San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Author: Brian Day
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California)