As we kick off what we expect to be another tumultuous year for the medical marijuana community in California, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers believe it’s worth exploring the efforts of state and federal officials to eradicate underground operations as well.
Or perhaps more specifically, marijuana cultivation in publicly-owned parks and forests. The Los Angeles Times recently took to exploring the issue, embedding a reporter with one of the federal crews fanning out over the state in series of simultaneous raids, hoping to find the masterminds of these organizations, some of which have ties to Mexican drug cartels.
Decked in SWAT gear and armed with assault rifles and attack dogs, officials work to take down these organization as stealth, heat-detecting aircraft fly overhead. It’s more akin to a war zone than a national park.
The Times reporter says the proliferation of these operations, which has ballooned in the last 10 years, can be primarily attributed to the expansion of medical marijuana industry. This characterization is not only unfair, it’s patently untrue.
The fact is, medical marijuana patients are not seeking to buy the drug from shadowy cartel members. These are cancer patients, kids with epilepsy, and people struggling with chronic pain. The more logical explanation is that the more that federal and local government officials restrict safe access and make it tougher for people to obtain their medicine legally in a way that can be regulated above-board, the more such shady, violent underground organizations are going to thrive.
Officials say that while cartels are often blamed for these operations, it’s most usually groups of independent Mexican nationals who use undocumented fieldworkers from their hometowns to help them cultivate and harvest. (Interestingly, the officials quoted say that while they know this, they often prefer the “fighting cartels” storyline, at least to the public, because it tends to allow them to lock down more federal funding for their eradication efforts.)
These growers may not be cartels, but they are nonetheless armed and dangerous. Plus, the shadowy nature of what they do inevitably draws a criminal element – gang members included. There have been numerous reports of cartel kidnappings, threats and shakedowns of farmers.
But again, if the drug were entirely legal for recreational purposes and could be sold at storefronts (and if medical marijuana dispensaries weren’t being shut down left and right), these operations wouldn’t have nearly the kind of market they do right now.
Last year, federal agents seized about 3 million marijuana plants growing in the wild. The year before that, it was about twice that. We can’t be sure if that means there are actually fewer plants being grown, or whether the farmers are simply getting better at hiding it.
During the most recent bust with the Times reporter along for the ride, officials spent roughly $40,000 to cover the cost of two aircraft, more than 40 federal agents and numerous scientists and environmental clean-up crews. They recovered 450 plants, though many more had already been harvested
Two were arrested. But they were low-level workers, offered $100-a-day to grow for a month. They swore to investigators they never knew for whom they were working.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Roots of pot cultivation in national forests are hard to trace, Dec. 26, 2012, By Joe Mozingo, The Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
California Supreme Court Takes On Second Medical Marijuana Case, Dec. 20, 2012, Los Angeles Medical Marijuana Lawyer Blog