Anyone looking to the heavens earlier this week may have seen two sheriff’s deputies dangling from a cable attached to helicopter as they emerged from California’s Los Padres National Forest, an illegal weed-growing hotspot that most recently netted the seizure of thousands of cannabis plants.
Specifically, the 18 investigations on public or private land in and around the Los Padres National Forest yielded 74,600 marijuana plants, 1,500 pounds (680 kg) of harvested marijuana and 84 firearms, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO).
“This is a significant increase in plants, processed marijuana, firearms, and arrest from previous years,” compared to previous eradication efforts, reports the VCSO, which receives grant funding from the United States Forest Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration to locate, investigate, and eradicate illegal cannabis cultivation sites in the forest. Many of these sites are located miles from roadways or trails.
The joint operation involved both the office’s narcotics bureau, SWAT team and aviation unit, the last necessary because of how remote some of the grows are. That necessitates using helicopters to transport personnel in and to haul cannabis, trash and supplies out of the grow sites.
There are also other illegal activities associated with the sites that are “a significant risk to the public,” according to VCSO. These include illegal firearms, other drugs like methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine, butane honey oil labs, human trafficking and labour trafficking. The latter has also been associated with reports out of the U.K., where it is said illegal migrants are being trafficked by criminal gangs and forced to work on cannabis farms.
“These marijuana cultivation sites are littered with legal and illegal pesticides and herbicides as well as trash.” / Photo: Ventura County Sheriff’s Office
Beyond those concerns in California is the effect that illegal grows are having on the environment. “These marijuana cultivation sites are littered with legal and illegal pesticides and herbicides as well as trash,” the VCSO notes.
The office reports that it is not uncommon to locate carbofuran, oftentimes imported from Mexico or China, that has been applied to the plants. The pesticide is banned by the Environmental Protection Agency because it is extremely toxic to animal and humans.
Natural vegetation is also removed and the land terraced, which causes erosion and “water is diverted from streams for irrigation and becomes contaminated with poisons that eventually runoff into Ventura County watersheds,” the VCSO adds.
The large hauls of trash removed from these grow-ops are taken to a refuge disposal site and buried.
Given the low overhead costs, illicit weed cultivation is very profitable, with the product is destined for the black market. Working with local, state and federal agencies, the VCSO “will continue to enforce local and state marijuana cultivation laws,” the statement adds.
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