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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marijuana Elimination Program Is Smaller but Still Helicoptering in Pot Country

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Do you hear what I hear?
  • Do you hear what I hear?

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting is dead.

Long live the Cannabis Eradication Reclamation Team.

Last year, rumors that the drug war -- or at least California's role it in -- was over began flying after Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated state funding for the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. CAMP, as it was known and loathed by many a pot grower, was the multi-agency law enforcement effort that for almost 30 years filled the skies above California pot country with helicopters seeking out fields of green.

CAMP is indeed gone. But the helicopters -- and the Drug Enforcement Administration agents, U.S. Forest Service wardens, and other cops -- are still here (as are the Mexican nationals growing ganja on public land, authorities say). They just have new environmental duties.

This year, three Cannabis Eradication Reclamation Team squads are active in California, according to the state Department of Justice. There's fewer of them -- CAMP had five teams -- but the DEA is footing almost all of the bill. And in addition to pulling plants from the woods, they're also pulling out trash, removing water lines, and cleaning up pollutants, rather than leaving it there for growers to retrieve next season.

CERT's three 12-person teams are far from the only helicopter-riding police looking for marijuana in the woods. The helicopters, on load from the California Air National Guard, can be rented by any agency with the budget -- and even if isn't available, county sheriffs and task forces created by county district attorneys often sweep shoulder-by-shoulder with game wardens, federal Forest Service officers, and DEA.

CAMP wasn't exactly breaking the bank. During the fattest times, in 2010, CAMP's budget ballooned to $2.25 million, according to state DOJ spokeswoman Michelle Gregory. About $1.6 million of that came from the DEA. 

Brown cut the state contribution last year, the Bay Citizen reported at the time. Currently, the only Sacramento-funded contribution to CERT is one DOJ agent who "oversees helicopter contracts and other administrative functions," Gregory said.

There was also a direct dollar-to-plant relationship. The more pot plants CAMP-participating agencies reported destroyed, the more money would flow from Washington, according to Lt. John Nores of the California Department of Fish and Game, who wrote the book War in the Woods -- on the deep woods marijuana hunting game.

"Everything was based on plant count, not the arrest of bad guys, not the environmental destruction," he said via telephone from the South Bay on Tuesday, in between jaunts to the wilderness in San Benito and Santa Clara counties, looking for illegal grows. "There was no incentive to burn time in the helicopter [to remove trash]."

In the past, teams would have time only to chase away the illegal growers, arrest them if they stuck around, pull up plants and then leave for the next site, Nores said. Any removal of illegal pot grower infrastructure, like planter boxes, stream diversion, and watering lines, would have to wait until off-season time like winter or spring, if at all.

In some cases, growers would return to a raided site and boot up the operation the next season, using the water lines left intact after a CAMP raid, Nores said.

CERT's bill is still unknown. Budget figures from the DEA were not available, according to Special Agent Casey McEnry, the agency's San Francisco-based spokeswoman. Efforts to contact spokespeople in D.C. were not successful.

As of Monday, CERT's tallies are "792,105 plants, 147 sites, 20 arrests, 24 weapons, 613 pounds [of] processed marijuana," according to Gregory. Figures on discarded food wrappers, empty fuel containers, and other waste were not included.

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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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