In an effort to eradicate marijuana farms in the forests of Northern California, state and federal drug agents recently conducted a series of raids that led to the arrest of 101 people. Officials report that more than 460,000 marijuana plants were uprooted and destroyed in raids that took place in and around Mendocino National Forest over a period of 2 weeks. An additional 1500 pounds of processed marijuana was also seized along with 27 guns. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman reported that none of the marijuana farms that were raided appeared to be used to grow legal medical marijuana.
The marijuana farm crackdown, referred to by officials as Operation Full Court Press, target 56 marijuana farms. It was planned in response to the danger the farms represent to hikers and forest visitors who unknowingly enter into a marijuana cultivation area. Many have been confronted by armed drug traffickers or have set off explosive traps.
According to Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for Northern California, “The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers.”
Law enforcement agents have reported an alarming trend over the past few years – the invasion of California’s wilderness areas by armed Mexican drug cartels. An army crackdown and the violent drug war in Mexico have pushed many drug traffickers north into California, where 31 million acres of lush wilderness are available for cultivation. Tighter U.S. border controls have made it harder to bring marijuana into the U.S., so many Mexican drug dealers have responded by moving their base of operations into California’s public forests. At the same time, the state and federal budget crises have led to a reduction in the number of forest rangers and police officials who are available to patrol the forests of California.
In addition to bringing a criminal element into the state, marijuana cultivation in California poses a threat to forest ecosystems. Besides destroying native plants and using toxic pesticides, marijuana farmers have been responsible for starting forest fires. In 2009, a campfire started by marijuana farmers in Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara sparked a wildfire that burned more than130 square miles of forest.
In addition to the Mendocino and Los Padres National Forests, the Klamath National Forest in Northern California and the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California are popular sites used by illegal drug organizations to grow marijuana. In 2008, a total of 2.5 million marijuana plants were removed from national forests in California. Many additional plants were removed from state and local public lands. Because of the street value of marijuana, it has long been called the biggest cash crop in California.
Marijuana is known to be psychologically addictive, but not physically addictive.