Busting pot gardens is frustrating work


Well-Known Member
Jun 21, 2007
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Tulare County's Grand Jury has concluded that "there is an urgent need to eradicate illegal marijuana growing" in the county.

The question becomes: How far is the county willing to go to do that?

The lamentable fact is that the county does not have the means to carry out the Grand Jury's suggestion. If it tried to eradicate marijuana farms, the effort would consume the county's resources and would still fall short.

The Grand Jury did the community a service in defining the extent of the problem. It's huge, which is exactly why it's beyond local ability to control.

Tulare County is far from the highest-producing county of marijuana in California, but at No. 7, it's a pretty big player, with about 227,000 plants seized in the past growing season.

And that's just the stuff that was seized.

Marijuana cultivation in California has grown by a factor of 12 in the past 10 years. There is 50 times more pot being grown in California now than there was 20 years ago.

The Grand Jury called marijuana the county's No. 1 cash crop — as much as $900 million last year — and that might be true. Statistics on marijuana values tend to be exaggerated by law enforcement and twisted by officials. So who knows? But the Grand Jury's estimate of more than 100 known marijuana-growing operations in the county is probably a safe number.

The Grand Jury also correctly pointed out that marijuana plants are more productive and more potent than just a few years ago.

Many factors make detection and prosecution of illegal marijuana growth nearly impossible, as the report stated. The plants are grown in remote, inaccessible terrain. They're well-hidden. They are guarded by heavily armed mercenaries, most of whom are illegal immigrants and members of organized crime. Raiding a marijuana garden is dangerous work. Law enforcement officers frequently are injured on raids. Innocent bystanders, such as hikers, hunters, fishers and others, put themselves in danger if they unknowingly come upon a garden in the wild.

Tulare County is already doing a lot to shut down marijuana farms, but it is limited, and not just by personnel. The window for raiding marijuana fields is only a few weeks. It requires a lot of advanced intelligence, research, planning and teamwork to pull off just one of these raids. When gardens are found and seized by law enforcement, rarely is anyone arrested.

Besides pointing out the extent of the problem, the Grand Jury did not make any recommendations, perhaps because it is difficult to know what to recommend. For obvious reasons, illegal marijuana extends far beyond the jurisdiction of Tulare County. It's a problem better addressed by state and federal resources. At present, the county is getting a very small allotment of those resources, and that is not likely to change.

That part of the discussion gets back to the typical problem surrounding how the community deals with drugs. How willing is society to correct the problem? The answer appears to be: not much. The illegal marijuana market flourishes because there is a big demand for the product. Our society indulges drug abuse while at the same time demanding higher penalties for violators. Reducing the demand in the market gets no attention.

So what is to be done? Ramping up the effort on enforcement, with more cops, gadgets, money and guns, isn't the way to go. They'll just get bigger guns and fancier gadgets. Operations that control illegal immigration, organized crime and illicit transportation might slow the traffic, but knock down one gang and another takes its place. The best solution is to dissolve the illegal market, but our society isn't willing to do that, either.

It would be worthwhile if the Grand Jury recommended a cost-benefit analysis of the existing attempts to eradicate marijuana: If we're spending a lot of resources and not having much effect, is it worth it?

Perhaps the recommendation should be: Figure out how much money is being spent to seize marijuana now. If it's more than the stuff is worth, we're not spending that money wisely.