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State Crackdown Nets $400 Million in Marijuana Plants

August 15, 2003|Olga R. Rodriguez | Times Staff Writer

More than 100,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $400 million were seized in the first 10 days of California's eradication program, the state attorney general's office said.

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP, was begun by the state Department of Justice on Aug. 4 and will continue through October.

"With at least 100,000 plants destroyed in less than two weeks, I think we're well on our way to breaking our records," said CAMP commander Val Jimenez.

Last year, CAMP seized 354,164 plants with a street value estimated at $1.4 billion.

"They are growing more [marijuana plants] in California, but we're also getting better at finding them," Jimenez said.

This year, CAMP is bringing together officers from 70 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, California National Guard, county sheriff agencies and local police departments from throughout the state.

The more than 100,000 marijuana plants seized were found in Calaveras, Fresno, Mendocino, Tulare, Tuolumne and Yolo counties.

"We find them [marijuana plants] anywhere from the national forest to the middle of corn fields and in vineyards," Jimenez said.

In recent years, officials said they have seen a jump in marijuana plantings on public land in Southern California and along the central mountains, such as in Sequoia National Park.

About 56% of the marijuana gardens eradicated last year were in national forest and other public recreational areas. At Sequoia National Park, marijuana cultivation has jumped eightfold since 2001.

"What is disturbing about these large-scale marijuana operations is the danger it presents to California's citizens," Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said in a statement.

"Hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts should not have to worry about stumbling upon gardens protected by armed gunmen."

Marijuana is typically planted in mid-April and harvested in late September or early October. CAMP starts its major operations in late July or early August, when the pot plants are big enough to be detected, Jimenez said.

Drug enforcement officials said Mexican drug cartels are largely responsible for the illegal marijuana cultivation in the state.

In the last 20 years, CAMP agents have assisted in the eradication of more than 3 million marijuana plants with an estimated wholesale value of $12 billion.

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