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Pot Busts On The Rise


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Upswing in Pot Production Frustrates North Coast Officials

Marijuana cultivation is exploding on the North Coast, fueling an illicit multi-billion-dollar statewide business and frustrating local lawmakers in a corner of California where about a third of the state's pot is grown.

In Mendocino County, a state leader in pot production, the number of plants seized during year-round eradication efforts has nearly doubled in the past five years, from 120,930 to 227,019. Law enforcement officials said the amount being grown could be 10 times greater.

"It's like watching a green plague spread over the county," said Bob Nishiyama, head of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force.

The steady growth of pot gardens and the failure to stop it prompted Mendocino County supervisors last week to send a letter demanding action from Washington. Four of five supervisors agreed the war on marijuana has been lost and said it's time to legalize it. They urged the government to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol and reap the benefits of a cash crop that is now untaxed.

Lawmakers in neighboring Sonoma and Lake counties said they share the concern but differ on what should be done.

"We have enough trouble dealing with the cost of legal drugs, such as alcohol," said Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Kerns. "And yet people say legalize it and tax it. The taxes we get from alcohol don't even begin to pay for the cost of the problems that are caused by alcohol," said the former Petaluma police sergeant.

Lake County supervisors said they have no plans to write a letter, but several believe marijuana eradication efforts have been less than successful.

Supervisor Ed Robey said he'd entertain the idea of legalization if there were adequate regulation.

"If a person wants to get marijuana, they can get it. The problem is this lucrative black market is causing all this crime," he said.

Sonoma, Lake and Humboldt counties all have seen sharp increases in marijuana production over the past five years.

It is a trend reflected across California, where heavy concentrations of illegal pot also show up in the Central Valley counties of Tulare and Fresno. In the past five years, the number of plants seized during the outdoor marijuana harvest season statewide more than quadrupled, from 354,202 to 1,675,681.

The potential value of the pot ultimately sold on the street is huge. Each mature plant is capable of producing a pound or more of marijuana, currently worth $2,000 to $4,000, according to law enforcement.

The number of plants confiscated year-round in Sonoma County almost quadrupled, increasing from 34,716 in 2002 to 132,967 in 2006. That partly reflects an increase in eradication efforts but still represents an estimated third of what's actually being grown, said Sgt. Chris Bertoli of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Task Force.

Lake County in 2006 yielded more marijuana - 314,603 plants - than any other county during the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, CAMP, and 17 times more than the same period in 2002. Lake County's year-round totals were unavailable. CAMP figures include only plants seized when the state is assisting local agencies in the late summer and early fall.

Most of the Lake County seizures were on national forest land, where armed laborers hired by Mexican cartels guard the plants, according to law enforcement.

Humboldt County's marijuana production also is on the rise.

The number of plants eradicated in Humboldt County has increased from 60,847 in 2002 to 104,606 in 2006. This year, authorities already have seized 89,645 plants.

But marijuana proponents say marijuana is a natural, harmless, non-addictive drug and legalizing it would decrease the huge street value, making its use safer.

Mendocino County supervisors said legalizing and regulating pot could solve many of its accompanying problems.

It would give officials more control over where it's grown, its distribution and its use. They said legalizing marijuana should at least reduce the crime associated with the drug by lessening the financial incentive.

They also said it would remove the confusion caused by conflicts between federal law, which prohibits all marijuana use and possession, and state law, which allows marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.

The conflict makes it difficult for police and district attorneys to enforce the law, which they say is widely abused by people growing pot for profit.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is in the process of creating a tagging system for medical pot plants to try to bring some control.

Changing limits on the amount of medical marijuana patients are allowed to possess has also created confusion, said Mendocino County Sheriff's Lt. Rusty Noe, who until recently headed the county's three-man Marijuana Eradication Team.

Noe said the best solution to the medical marijuana confusion would be for the federal government to reclassify marijuana and give it legal prescription drug status. It then could be grown by federally authorized farmers and dispensed in pharmacies.

Law enforcement officials acknowledge enforcement efforts have not stopped the illegal marijuana industry from growing. But they disagree with Mendocino County supervisors who say the fight is lost.

"It's a silly idea. Have we lost the war on drunk driving, rapes and homicides?" asked Sgt. Wayne Hanson, who oversees Humboldt's marijuana eradication program. "We can't throw in the flag."

In Sonoma County, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Valerie Brown said she doesn't see the issue of legalization coming before the board, which has grappled with regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, but has not dealt with legalization.

Brown said Mendocino County is much different because marijuana is a big part of its economy and difficult to control.

"I'm looking at a system of priorities we have to deal with. Legalization of marijuana is way down at the bottom of my list," she said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Paul Kelley doesn't support legalizing marijuana, saying, pot "negatively affects people's lives in some cases."

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said he could support legalization, but only "if every federal and state dollar we currently spend on eradicating marijuana could be spent on fighting methamphetamine."

Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott said she does not support legalization.

"It is the position of the district attorney to enforce, not make laws," she said.

The difficulties of prosecution could be solved by state officials setting statewide regulations for medical marijuana use, she said.

Almost everyone involved in dealing with marijuana, its sale, its enforcement and even its legalization agrees that the size of the crop and the social demand is huge and apparently growing.

In Humboldt County, for example, the confiscated plants account for only about 5 percent of what's being grown, said Hanson, whose job it to try to wipe out illegal production.

"It's like trying to control Baghdad," he said.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420 Magazine
Source: The [SIZE=-1]Press Democrat[/SIZE]
Author: [SIZE=-1]Glenda Anderson[/SIZE]
Contact: letters@pressdemo.com
Copyright: [SIZE=-1]2007 The Press Democrat[/SIZE]
Website: Santa Rosa Press Democrat
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The (Cannabis) Drug War has been lost.. I like the way that sounds.

"It's like trying to control Baghdad," he said.


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Go Cali........go team....let's root for Mich. too, because they are working on legislation for MMJ access:3: Everytime I read something like this I feel so proud to be part of the process of bringing awareness to the public.:headbang:
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