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Home / Environment / More U.S. public lands go to pot (1:15 p.m. 3/1/10)

More U.S. public lands go to pot (1:15 p.m. 3/1/10)

Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Rick Ko walks through a campsite at an abandoned marijuana growing site in the Sequoia National Forest near Fresno, Calif. Officials say Mexican traffickers are expanding their foothold in the domestic marijuana market, taking over vast swaths of public lands. (AP Photos by Rich Pedroncelli)

Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Rick Ko walks through a campsite Jan. 20 at an abandoned marijuana growing site in the Sequoia National Forest near Fresno, Calif. Officials say Mexican traffickers are expanding their foothold in the domestic marijuana market, taking over vast swaths of public lands.(AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli)

By Alicia A. Caldwell and Manuel Valdes
AP Writers

Sequoia National Forest, Calif. — Not far from Yosemite’s waterfalls and in the middle of California’s redwood forests, Mexican drug gangs are quietly commandeering U.S. public land to grow millions of marijuana plants and using smuggled immigrants to cultivate them.

Pot has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a new level: using armed guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots that in some cases contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.

“Just like the Mexicans took over the methamphetamine trade, they’ve gone to mega, monster gardens,” said Brent Wood, a supervisor for the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. He said Mexican traffickers have “supersized” the marijuana trade.

Interviews conducted by The Associated Press with law enforcement officials across the country showed that Mexican gangs are largely responsible for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the past several years.

Local, state and federal agents found about a million more pot plants each year between 2004 and 2008, and authorities said an estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can be linked to Mexican gangs.

In 2008 alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, police across the country confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots.

The remote plots are nestled under the cover of thick forest canopies in places such as Sequoia National Park, or hidden high in the rugged-yet-fertile Sierra Nevada Mountains. Others are secretly planted on remote stretches of Texas ranch land.

All of the sites are far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow far more potent marijuana. Farmers of these fields use illegal fertilizers to help the plants along, and use cloned female plants to reduce the amount of seed in the bud that is dried and eventually sold.

Mexican gang plots can often be distinguished from those of domestic-based growers, who usually cultivate much smaller fields with perhaps 100 plants and no security measures.

Agents routinely find the discarded remnants of camp life when they discover marijuana fields. It’s not uncommon to discover pots and pans, playing cards and books, half-eaten bags of food, and empty beer cans and liquor bottles.

But the growers leave more than litter to worry about. They often use animal poisons that can pollute mountain streams and groundwater meant for legitimate farmers and ranchers.

Because of the tree cover, armed pot farmers can often take aim at law enforcement before agents ever see them.

“They know the terrain better than we do,” said Lt. Rick Ko, a drug investigator with the sheriff’s office in Fresno, Calif. “Before we even see them, they can shoot us.”

In Wisconsin, the number of confiscated plants grew sixfold between 2003 and 2008, to more than 32,000 found in 2008.

Wisconsin agents used to find a few dozen marijuana plants on national forest land. Now they discover hundreds or even thousands.

“If we are getting 40 to 50 percent (of fields), I think we are doing well,” said Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Dave Peltomaa. “I really don’t think we are close to 50 percent. We don’t have the resources.”


  1. Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation. By its very nature prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Prohibition ideology is based on lies and the ‘War on Drugs’ is a de facto ‘war on people’ (some might even successfully argue that it’s a de facto race war). Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us!

  2. The reason cannabis or hemp is called marijuana is to make Americans fear cannabis by linking it to a racial fear of Mexicans in the 1930s. That tactic is still being used today and for the same reasons.

    William Randolph Hearst introduced the word marijuana to help Harry Anslinger in his propaganda efforts to wipe outcompetition that cannabis hemp posed to DuPont, Kimberly Clark and many other corporations. Hearst had huge wood and paper interests that hemp directly competed with. DuPont had just patented many synthetic fibers, explosives and other petroleum based products that could be made from hemp if it were not wiped out. Pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly and Pfizer stood to loose huge profits on their patented drugs to a plant that anyone could grow. Tobacco and alcohol companies also did not want the competition.

    So Hearst and Anslinger began a campaign of blatant lies and bigotry to tie Mexicans to cannabis (now called marijuana) in order to make people fearful of cannabis and Mexicans. Then once laws were passed, government agencies started to receive ever increasing funding that eventually turned into trillions of dollars. The prison industrial complex has become one of the most profitable industries in the US.

    End the war on drugs and the gangs will disappear and our parks will be safe. The problem is not Mexicans or cannabis. The problem is the war on drugs and all the damage that is has and continues to cause to our society. Until then, we can count on being inundated with lies, fear, bigotry, big government, fascist corporatism, oppression, pollution, loss of freedom, rights and civil liberties

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