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The Changing Face Of The Drug Trade

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Mexican drug trafficking organizations have expanded the marijuana cultivation in public lands in Mendocino County in a major way since 2000. Based primarily on the number of plants eradicated by the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team, 2007 appears to have been a bumper marijuana crop year with more than 320,000 plants eradicated this season. Mexican DTOs find it cost effective to grow pot in this and other rural Northern California counties for a number of reasons.

The penalty for growing pot continues to be substantially lower than for drugs of other varieties. Personnel apprehended for marijuana grows do not typically face long jail sentences, and one needs only look at arrest logs to determine Mendocino County arrests do not appear to discourage many from repetitively participating in the business.

The reward is high. While marijuana supply in California continues to be plentiful and prices are less than at historic peaks, it remains a very lucrative cash crop. If the plants removed by COMMET from Mendocino County alone had all reached full growth this year, they could easily have netted as much as $600 million and still represented only a small percentage of this year's crop. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates Americans spend nearly $11 billion to purchase marijuana annually.

The grow sites are close to a readymade market with high concentrations of users living in the Bay Area. Marijuana use is growing within California bucking the national trend, leading to an expanding market. The Bay Area is a transportation hub providing multiple ways to distribute product to users throughout the United States.

There appears to be an increasing supply of Mexican nationals attached to the drug cartels willing to relocate to the United States to tend the crops. Many of the growers have grown the crop in the same or nearby locations on public lands for several years in a row, building an infrastructure that allows grows to continually expand and improve. The DTOs also have ready access to illegal aliens willing to tend a grow site through a successful harvest to pay the Mexican human traffickers who sponsored their entry into the country.

Growers living with the crop are now typically armed, prepared to protect their high-value crop from thieves or rival organizations and sometimes, law enforcement personnel. While some booby traps remain, most growers now rely on automatic weapons to discourage casual visitors.

The invasion of the remote areas of the county begins with a two-man reconnaissance team, typically during the winter season. The teams scout sources of water in more and more remote areas of public lands, likely using inexpensive satellite-based navigation systems to mark locations.

Each spring the typical four-man grow teams return to previous garden areas not found by COMMET raids. The groups are typically fully equipped with seedlings, sophisticated irrigations systems, concentrated pesticides and fertilizers from Mexico not typically available in the United States and plenty of food and equipment to last the summer. Teams are also dropped off to start new grow sites each spring.

Grow teams typically live off the land, poaching wildlife and diverting water courses as needed to expand the grow. In the Mendocino National Forest, some grows have been found with large overhanging tarps covering the entire campsite. Some sites contain exercise facilities, hammocks, tents, tree houses and barbed wire fences. Cooking and sleeping camp usually have a view of the cultivation site. The open flames pose a summer wildfire threat. Most grows organized by the DTOs have more than 3,000 plants although grows as large as 30,000 plants have been discovered. Human waste, garbage accumulations, compacted soil, dead trees and removal of native plants, pesticide and herbicide spills, poisons used for controlling gnawing rodents are plentiful at established grow sites. These toxic chemicals enter and contaminate ground water, pollute watersheds, kill fish and other wildlife, and eventually enter residential water supplies. Foresters estimate that for every cultivated acre another 10 acres are damaged. The cost of remediation is an estimated $11,000 per acre.

During harvest season, the marijuana is trimmed and dried at the grow site and then carried out in black plastic bags to distributors. The garbage and toxic chemicals remain at the grow site entering the environment during the seasonal rains. The disturbed soils erode over the winter, adding silt to the creeks and rivers impacting fish reproductive cycles. It also seems unlikely proceeds from the grows ever enter the Mendocino County economy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 2 of a series on the growing involvement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the Mendocino County marijuana trade.

Source: Willits News (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Willits News
Contact: editorial@willitsnews.com
Website: The Willits News - HOME
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