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California Endures Another Summer of Outdoor Marijuana Raids [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #643)

It's August in California, and that means the state's multi-billion outdoor marijuana crop is ripening in the fields. It also means that the nearly 30-year-old effort to uproot those plants, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), is once taking up its Sisyphean task of wiping out the crop. The choppers are flying, the SWAT teams are deploying, and the federal funds that largely feed CAMP are being burned through.

marijuana eradication helicopter
The raids are nearly a daily event in the Golden State at this time of year. CAMP spokesperson Michelle Gregory told the Chronicle Wednesday that the campaign had uprooted 2.27 million pot plants as of this week, slightly behind the 2.4 million uprooted by this time last year. Last year was a CAMP record, with 4.4 million plants seized by year's end.

"It's about the same this year," said Gregory.

In just the past couple of weeks, CAMP and associated law enforcement agencies pulled up 91,000 plants in Santa Barbara County, 48,000 plants in Sonoma County, and 21,000 plants in Calaveras County. So far this year, in Mendocino County alone, more than 470,000 plants have been destroyed.

The enforcement effort has also led to the deaths of at least three growers this year. A worker at a grow in Napa County was killed early last month when he pointed a gun at police. Another worker at a grow in Santa Clara County was killed two weeks ago. And last week, police in Mendocino County killed a third grower they encountered holding a rifle during an early morning raid.

While the number of deaths this year is high -- one grower was killed in Lassen County last year, one was killed in Humboldt County in 2007, and two were killed in Shasta County in 2003 -- there have also been other violent incidents. Last month, somebody shot out the rear window of a Mendocino County Sheriff's vehicle as it left a grow raid in the western part of the county, and police in Lake County encountered an armed grower there, but he fled.

CAMP and other law enforcement efforts may destroy as much as 25% of the state's outdoor harvest, but it is unclear what real impact the program is having. Prices for outdoor marijuana have been dropping in California for the past year, the availability of pot remains high, and use levels appear unchanged.

image:2 align:left caption:true]"To point out the obvious, in almost 30 years, CAMP has been unable to reduce marijuana use or availability," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "All it does is pay for law enforcement officers to go out in the woods and pull weeds. Every year, they find more and more, and that just motivates illegal growers to plant more."

"CAMP is an enormous waste of money -- I've even heard law enforcement refer to this as helicopter rides," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli of the Drug Policy Alliance in Los Angeles. "It's fun for them, but spending this money on that doesn't do any good, and that's a shame when we're in such dire budgetary shape on all levels."

"I think we are making a difference," said CAMP spokesperson Gregory. "There are still plants out there, but at the same time, the way we look at it, they are willing to defend their grow sites, so we're obviously impacting them monetarily."

Gregory blamed Mexico drug trafficking organizations for much of the illicit production, but was unable to cite specific prosecutions linked to them. She also cited environmental damage done to national parks and forests by illicit grows.

"Nobody wants our national parks and forests to be turned into illegal marijuana grows," said Dooley-Sammuli, "but the question is what is the best approach. The more we spend on CAMP, the more helicopter rides and gardening projects we get, but marijuana prices don't go up, and there is no measurable impact on availability. What we do get is increased violence in the national parks. The government should be looking at how best to reduce illegal grows," said Dooley-Sammuli. "One way would be to allow lawful cultivation as part of a regulated market."

Deputies prepare to repel out of helicopter into a marijuana grow (Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office via SB Independent Weekly)
The US Justice Department is spending nearly $3.6 billion this year to augment budgets of state and local law-enforcement agencies. In addition, the federal government last year set aside close to $4 billion of the economic-stimulus package for law-enforcement grants for state and local agencies. The White House also is spending about $239 million this year to fund local drug-trafficking task forces. In California, many of those task forces work with CAMP.

One approach to defanging CAMP is to work to cut off the federal funding spigot. Since it is largely dependent on federal dollars, attacking federal funding could effectively starve the program, especially given the perpetual budget crisis at the state and local level in California. But that runs into the politics of supporting law enforcement.

"There are many federal funding streams that go to state and local law enforcement, and there is a lot of politics around that," said Dooley-Sammuli. "CAMP really has little to do with marijuana and a lot to do with funding law enforcement."

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko is a case in point. He told the Wall Street Journal last month that although he is having to lay off employees, reduce patrols, and even release inmates early because of the budget crunch, he's spending more money on pot busts because "it's where the money is."

He has spent about $340,000 since last year on eradication in order to ensure that his department gets $492,000 in federal anti-drug funds. That is "$340,000 I could use somewhere else in my organization," he said. "That could fund three officers' salaries and benefits, and we could have them out on our streets doing patrol."

Sheriff's Deputies transporting larger marijuana plants
from site (SBSO via SB Independent Weekly)
"We're giving law enforcement resources, but not allowing them to put them to the best use," said Dooley-Sammuli. "With all the cuts we're having, I don't know any Californians who would rather spend federal law enforcement on helicopter rides and pulling plants out of the ground. Why are we forcing our law enforcement to prioritize something that for most of the public is at the bottom of the list?"

It's the law of unintended consequences that provoked the boom in growing on public lands in the first place, said Meno. "Around 2002, law enforcement said they started seeing a dramatic shift toward outdoor grows on public lands, but that's because they were raiding people growing indoors and on private property. Prohibition and law enforcement tactics drove those people out into those federal lands. Now, some of our most treasured resources are overflowing with marijuana because they were pushed there by law enforcement."

For CAMP, the endless war continues. "The laws are what they are," said Gregory. "Whether it's marijuana or meth or heroin, we're going to enforce the law. If the law changes, that's different," she said, responding to a query about the looming marijuana legalization vote. "But we're always going to have something to enforce."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous Eric (not verified)

We should fire all these idiots and actually find people to put in office that have a brain.  Its all about the money to these greedy morons.

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 1:50pm Permalink
Stephen R. McDonald (not verified)

California is in a pickle! It doesn't have enough revenue to continue to function as usual! So the State is slowly shutting down. 

Yet, in the Northern counties, there is a source of revenue that is already established, and it could bring them out of the financial doldrums they are currently experiencing: MARIJUANA!

They need to legalize it, then regulate and  tax the sales, as they already do for alcohol and those DEADLY cigarettes!

Why hasn't this gone forward? There are two answers: Jerry Brown and Dianne Feinstein. They both vehemently oppose this idea. WHY?

POLITICS!! The Californians should advocate the repeal of the pieces of California legislation blocking the legalization of marijuana, and begin a cycle of growth (pun not intended) for California!

After all, this is the 21st Century now!

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 3:38pm Permalink
Jonny Fautoty (not verified)

Some cops get a paycheck, growers just grow more plants, and supply is barely effected. Yep sounds like business as usual. I wonder where we would be if we actually spent this money on violent offenders instead of killing plants.
Thu, 08/05/2010 - 9:54pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

Do the math.  Taxing governments in the US collect over $30-bil. from $igarette taxes, which pays for these raids among other persecutions.  Tax = Bribe.

The good news is it's failing to drive cannabis prices up, meanwhile the bad news is it's been keeping them as high as they are.  Think what will happen to "Too Pig to Fail" corps Philip Morris and R.J.Reynolds when the price of weed drops to anywhere near what poor addicted pwffswckers currently pay for $igarette tobackgo.

Yes on Prop. 19, but meanwhile also check out the political party structure.  Big 2Wackgo pumps money and lobbyist time into both big parties, but twice as much to Repubs as to Dems!!  AND... polls say Repub voters are double-digit more against mj legalization than Dem voters.  The best way to speed reform is to convincingly punish the Republican Party nationwide for its sweetheart relationship with Hot Burning Overdose Genocide.  (An Alternet article recently stated that would-be Speaker John Boehner has a close associate named John Fish who is "an in-house lobbyist for R. J. Reynolds."  Duh???)

Ironically after legalization cannabis will help to drastically improve our nation's forests!  Excellent precursor crop for trees!  Instead of hidden under existing trees as now under prohibition, cannabis will be massively planted openly in desertified locations (remember those dense plantings shown in "Hemp for Victory"?)  resulting in fabulous topsoil creation.  By the year 2099 there will be 55,555 orangutans living in the rainforests of Arizona and as many in Afghanistan.

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 10:19pm Permalink
denbee (not verified)

A large part of our economic problems can be attributed to the hundreds of petty laws and statues that are created in our cities, states and federal government each year.  We have so greatly increased the scope and size of law enforcement from basic protection from thieves, muggers and murderers, violence and fraud, to enforcers of behavioral laws,  enforcers of morality laws, enforcers of consumption laws… and yes, enforcers of our misguided drug laws,  that now when our states and cities really need to cut costs they are finding it difficult to trim their police forces because of all the junk laws we have created for them to enforce.  Do we really believe that home invasion by our police is cost effective and  justified in order to keep my 78 year old mom  from enjoying her cannabis tea before bedtime?   Just how stupid does it get?

Thu, 08/05/2010 - 10:25pm Permalink
ScotsIrish (not verified)

It's just amazing that so much effort and money is still wasted trying to eradicate such a benign and beneficial plant.

I would bet you that half of these cops are alcoholics and see absolutely nothing wrong with that. This country really needs to get it's priorities straight.

Fri, 08/06/2010 - 1:46am Permalink
LEAP_Speaker (not verified)

Montana had similar laws that wastes money when I worked drugs there.  A small sheriffs office with less than  10 deputies ended up with $2,000,000.00 in drug seizure money. At the time Montana law said the money had to be spent on drug enforcement. This was a small agency with a small budget. Many of the patrol cars had over 100,000 miles, but the money couldn't be spent of new patrol cars, only drug enforcement.


A deputy from Tennessee told me that deputies in their agency had to buy their own radar units, because the agency spent all the money on drug enforcement.


I think our law enforcement priorities are all screwed up.................

Sun, 08/08/2010 - 1:10am Permalink
Adam Kraska (not verified)

    Our government is spending a ton of money on rediculous matters on such things like Destroying Cannabis mega farms which in the end can of harvest season will help put back money into the system.  The war on Drugs is really stupid and should be irradicated to the point where it's just an eye opener for these Republicans up in congress that are giving away wasted money to have these agents just to pull up crops from the ground.  I mean seriously what the hell is up with that.  There are far more important things in the world that are detrimental to this society of souvenry.  Here we are constantly suffering in the economic battles and more and more people are outta of work and in the streets.  While places like Denver, CO is a very successful state and they are not struggling economically.  These are the things that we should be focusing on making sure that we can pass the law for legalization on cannabis, help bring in money into the system and take those people who are imprisoned for growing a flower giving back there lives.  Democratically the people are totally in favor for legalization is proven and now that the states have seen an increase on the rise for the vote it should be passed.  There are a lot of people who trully need it, with Big farma and Philliop Morris in the way they are constantly on battles.


Thanks for reading

Sun, 08/08/2010 - 2:46pm Permalink
Anonymous1 (not verified)

im glad theyre doing this to be honest. most of this is being grown illegally in national parks and other sensitive areas. i smoke and i love herb, but i also know what is really going on. 

Mon, 08/09/2010 - 2:56pm Permalink
Gary D. Olive (not verified)

Great article, and just belies the point that crime really does pay for these adrenalin junkies.


Gary Olive

Wed, 11/03/2010 - 7:07pm Permalink

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