In the wake of recent federal proposals to spray herbicides on the nation's burgeoning marijuana crop, officials have agreed to let California continue its longstanding policy of using machetes--not paraquat--on the plants.
This week the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced a program to step up the eradication of domestically grown marijuana. Called "Operation Stop Crop 88," the program calls for low-flying aircraft to spray chemicals on pot fields.
However, DEA spokesman Robert Feldkamp said the agency has no plans to spray in California.
"We generally go along with what the state's wishes are," Feldkamp said.
State Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp said Friday that California will continue to pursue "conventional methods" of eradicating marijuana crops.
"We have a very successful marijuana eradication program in California which has never involved the spraying of herbicides on our lands," Van de Kamp said.
Since 1983, California's primary means of attack on pot fields has been the Campaign Against Marijuana Program, a $2.8-million, coordinated effort of 100 local, state and federal agencies.
The program employs about 600 workers, who mount yearly raids in an effort to root out the state's illegal growers.
Each spring, said Charles Casey, a California Department of Justice official, planes fly over Northern California counties where most of the illegal crop is grown and agents plot suspected plant sites on a map.
Chop Down Plants
Then at the start of the summer marijuana harvest season, the agents return to chop down the plants, which are removed by helicopter and burned.
The state's marijuana crop has been reduced by roughly two-thirds since the program began, Casey said, adding that in the five years since the program has been in operation, 651,000 plants with an estimated wholesale value of $1.6 billion have been seized.
According to Casey, aerial herbicide spraying is not effective in this state because most marijuana is grown in the foothills and along rugged northern coastlines, areas that do not lend themselves to accurate spraying.
"For California, (spraying marijuana) is just not economical to do," Casey said. "Technically it's not easy without killing off a lot of (harmless) vegetation. And I don't think it's safe."
Jon Gettman, national director of a lobby group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, cited a State Department study saying marijuana growing in the United States increased by 50% in 1987.
If the federal program is carried out as planned this summer, it will be the first time airborne herbicides have been used on marijuana since they were blocked by a temporary federal order in 1983.