Los Angeles County, which has seen a whirlwind expansion in medical marijuana dispensaries this year, has notched another marijuana milestone. The county has moved to No. 5 for the amount seized in the state’s annual eradication campaign, with 340,187 pot plants uprooted -- more than a fourfold increase.
Statewide, the 27-year-old effort, known as the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, found and destroyed almost 4.5 million plants in 41 counties, up from 2.9 million seized in each of the two prior years’ growing season. The amount has climbed steadily since 1996, when California voters approved the nation’s first medical marijuana law.
State officials put the wholesale value of this year’s eradicated marijuana at $17.8 billion.
L.A. County ranked 11th last year. By vaulting into the Top 10, it joins some of the state’s better-known marijuana-growing counties, including Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt, popularly known as the Emerald Triangle.
State officials said the increase in seizures statewide probably reflects more effective law enforcement operations, as well as increased marijuana production. “I do think it’s expanding,” said George Anderson, director of the state Division of Law Enforcement.
Chris Jackson of the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement said his team spent about 15 days working in Los Angeles County with the Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Forest Service. One particular three-day stretch amazed him, he said. Within an eight-mile radius of their outpost on Angeles Crest Highway, he said, agents uncovered and destroyed a dozen gardens and about 150,000 plants.
“The sheer quantity indicates that the majority of it is going out onto the street,” he said. “As much as dispensaries are popping up like crazy, you are still going to have a dealer walking down the street selling it.”
Officials attribute most of the operations to drug cartels that have shifted their cultivation north to avoid smuggling marijuana across the border and to be closer to their market. “Many of these big grows have been either started or taken over by the drug trafficking organizations out of Mexico,” Anderson said.
Many of these operations are hidden deep in canyons or carved out of steep hillsides in remote areas of national parks and forests, causing considerable damage when trees are cleared and land cultivated.
Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, ridiculed the effort. “Let me guess, they set a record number of plant seizures and marijuana has now been eradicated from California?” he quipped.
Mirken said the campaign has caused growers to move from private lands into wilderness areas. “This is an annual exercise in futility. Not only does it not do anything meaningful, it actually makes the problem worse,” he said.
The proportion seized on public lands increased to 76% this year from 70% in 2008.
The annual effort includes officers from numerous state and federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the California Highway Patrol, which conducted 665 raids, up from 542 in 2008. Agents made 111 arrests and found 89 weapons. Last year, they made 143 arrests and found 142 weapons.