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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Marijuana Sweep: Feds Mostly Ignore "Emerald Triangle"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 12:00 AM

They'll get to it
  • They'll get to it

Another year, another fleet of helicopters hovering overhead and federal agents tramping through publicly owned woods in search of illegal marijuana plots and the (Mexican) people who grow them.

In 2011, there was Operation Full Court Press; in 2012, we had Operation Mountain Sweep. This year, beginning July 1, federal law enforcement officers from six different agencies seized 486,000 marijuana plants in California, and arrested "numerous" persons, according to the Justice Department. Fourteen of those people have since been indicted on charges.

This year was a big one, with White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske on hand to personally witness the haul of trash, pot plants, and firearms from National Forest lands. But it didn't happen in Mendocino, Humboldt, or anywhere else in Northern California's "Emerald Triangle" of cannabis production. Instead, Kerlikowske visited El Dorado County, in Gold Country -- and thus far, no illegal marijuana growers in coastal NorCal have been prosecuted.

Mountain Sweep netted a total of 578,000 marijuana plants worth $1 billion from seven states: California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, the Justice Department said. In California alone, 96 illegal plots were busted, and 484,000 plants seized, which accounted for "66 percent of all marijuana plants seized in California since July 1," the Justice Department reported.

That would mean 803,440 plants have been busted in the state in a little over six weeks. But how many of these were in the legendary Northern California green belt?

There were seizures in the Mendocino National Forest -- but that particular patch of woods emcompasses 913,306 acres, spread over multiple counties. The four plots busted by feds included 23,000 plants, and appear to have been on the Central Valley side of the forest. 

The forest is also currently on fire, which can't help illegal pot growers, so there's that.

SF Weekly asked the local Justice Department about Mountain Sweep's impact on the local counties. We were directed to the Eastern District's press office, which hasn't returned our telephone call.

Thus far, no prosecutions stemming from Mountain Sweep arrests are pending in the Northern District of California, which is based in San Francisco, according to spokesman Jack Gillund.

That's not to say no plants were seized and destroyed in local counties -- it's just that we aren't yet sure.

DEA Special Agent Casey L. McEnry, an agency spokeswoman, said on Monday that she had no figures of plant seizures in the Bay Area's backcountry available, and would need a few days -- or more -- to find out if any Emerald Triangle-specific numbers were releasable.

"You'll have to get in line," McEnry told us. "I have other requests to process."

Operation Mountain Sweep is scheduled to end this weekend, according to the Justice Department -- but that's not to say that agents and police will at that time abandon the mountains until next year.

Right now is when pot growers are at their most vulnerable -- plants are getting big, and the harvest of outdoor crops will run from the beginning of September through the end of October. There is good reason to suspect the feds will be back.

In the meantime, local Justice Department efforts appear focused on urban centers of marijuana sales. Harborside Health Center, the state's biggest cannabis dispensary, is due in court in October, when U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag will argue for its seizure.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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