More than 400,000 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $1,000 to $2,000 each have been removed from Central Valley farms since March, officials of the U.S. Department of Justice and sheriff’s deputies reported at a Fresno press conference on Sept. 26. The plants were eradicated through federal and local efforts under a program called “Operation Mercury” that was announced in March. The goal of the operation is to find and eradicate large marijuana farms being grown in the middle of traditional crops like cotton, grapes, tree fruit or vegetables. The program was developed when federal and local officials determined that marijuana growers were leaving federal forests and planting their crops on farms where they could claim the marijuana was grown for medical uses. Authorities insist however, that the marijuana was being trucked to other states as far away as New Jersey. Operation Mercury targeted agricultural land in the counties of Merced, Madera, Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno. Since March, federal authorities have arrested 71 suspects and three have been convicted for growing marijuana for sale. Combined with local efforts, a total of 175 growers have been arrested and the number is expected to rise. So far, 66 federal search warrants have been served. Besides removing marijuana investigators confiscated 100 firearms.
In addition, farmers who were aware marijuana was being grown on their farms are in jeopardy of having their land ceased under forfeiture proceedings. Various federal agencies carried out Operation Mercury including the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Land Management as well as area sheriff’s departments carried out Mercury. Federal and local law enforcement officials were on hand at the press conference. One of the speakers, Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said that the growers have no real interest in growing marijuana for medical purposes. Several speakers stressed that it was all about the money. The grow sites were either manned by the growers or protected with booby traps. Asked how much the farmer-owners knew about the marijuana crops found on their land, Wagner said some were absentee owners, some were active participants and some just turned their heads. “We are still looking for the proper owners,” he said. Responding to a reporter who asked if it would be easier if marijuana was just legalized and regulated, Wagner replied, “I don’t think so.” He pointed out that prescription drugs are legal and controlled and yet the U.S. has a serious problem with prescription drug abuse.
via : The Business Journal
You must be logged in to post a comment.