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North State Officers Watch For Rise In Pot Distribution


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'Tis the season for north state marijuana growers to smuggle their illegal crop south.

"The harvest is done, they've dried their product and it's on the move," said Kurt Heuer, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol in Redding. As officers cope with increased holiday traffic, they are on the lookout for people who could be carrying drugs or large amounts of money for dealers, Heuer said. "Usually the dope is going south and the money is coming north," he said.

There can be as many as 2,200 vehicles traveling across the Pit River bridge on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, compared with the 800 to 900 vehicles on a typical November day, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Heuer and other law enforcement officers were tight-lipped about what they might be looking for in the rush of cars to tip them off to smugglers. But he did say marijuana can be hard to hide because of its bulky size compared to other illegal drugs, and its pungent, tell-tale scent. In searching for smugglers, the CHP and other agencies often call on the help of drug-sniffing dogs whose noses can pick up the smell even when people can't, Heuer said. Often smugglers will use hidden compartments and other tricks in case they are pulled over. "They go through a lot of pains to hide it in vehicles to smuggle," said Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko. Some smugglers aren't so cautious, stuffing the pot in trash bags before piling it into their trunks and hoping they won't get caught, Heuer said.

To search a car or truck, law enforcement officers either need probable cause -- which can be the skunky smell of pot -- or consent from the driver, he said. And that's usually received after a vehicle has been pulled over for speeding, having faulty equipment or another reason. "You have to have a reason to stop it," said Susan Gravenkamp, spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County sheriff's office.

U.S. Forest Rangers and state game wardens also keep an eye out for suspicious activity in the north state backcountry while checking on hunters.

Law enforcement officials said they didn't have statistics available for how many busts occur each year in the north state, but they all agreed that Interstate 5 is a major drug trafficking corridor.

Thanks to an all-out blitz on illicit marijuana plantations dotting public land in Shasta County this summer, there could be less pot being moved out of the north state, Bosenko said. During the three-week Operation Alesia in July, his office joined with 16 other agencies to raid 60 gardens, uprooting more than 283,000 pot plants in the process. The surge helped make for a record year of marijuana eradication, with more than 365,000 plants pulled out of Shasta County soil. "I think it had a major impact on marijuana coming from Shasta County," Bosenko said.

While a recent federal Department of Justice report says such efforts could push pot growers into starting indoor operations, Sgt. Todd Larson of the Shasta County sheriff's office's marijuana eradication team said that hasn't been the case in Shasta County. "We haven't seen them going indoors at all," he said. The true impact of Operation Alesia won't be gauged until next growing season, when law enforcement officials can assess whether there are more or fewer gardens in Shasta County.

But the pot now being smuggled through the north state doesn't just come from the nearby hills. Crops from coastal counties, Oregon, Washington and even Canada's British Columbia, pass through on their way to the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California's population centers, Heuer said.

The stream of illegal drugs isn't limited to pot, although the amount of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and other drugs doesn't spike this time of year because of a harvest like marijuana's, Heuer said.

"We are looking for all the drugs, all the time," he said.

Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2007 Record Searchlight
Contact: letters@redding.com
Website: Redding.com : Redding, California, News, Business, Homes, Jobs, Cars & Information
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