Pubdate: Sat, 26 Aug 2006
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: A3
Copyright: 2006 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Extra $2.2 Million Is Pledged to State by U.S., in Part to Combat Pot 
Growing on Public Lands.

WASHINGTON -- The White House is sending money and its national drug
czar to reinforce the fight against California marijuana growers.

When John Walters lands in Fresno on Tuesday, he'll be bringing a
commitment of an additional $2.2 million in law enforcement funding.
The money will include $100,000 grants for Fresno, Tulare and Kern
counties, as well as more support for a coordinated anti-pot campaign.

He'll also be bringing the extra attention that comes along with the
job of directing the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy. That, too, has value for local law enforcement officials, even
though Walters lacks the star power of some of his

"It's all part of our effort to take back the public lands from the
marijuana growers," said Bill Ruzzamenti, head of the Central Valley
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The Sierra Nevada region is a particular focus, as investigators track
the producers who cultivate commercial gardens amid the area's
national treasures. Last year, Ruzzamenti said, 70 percent of the 2
million marijuana plants seized in the greater Central Valley area
were found on public lands.

"The problem is getting worse," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare.
"There are so many mountains and valleys and peaks."

In addition to the $990,000 for the statewide Campaign Against
Marijuana Planting, the new funds include $150,000 for a
Sacramento-based intelligence "fusion" center that coordinates various
anti-pot efforts. An additional $240,000 will fund pot investigations
north of Sacramento, where commercial growers have flocked to certain

"Shasta County is outrageous," Ruzzamenti said Friday.

Reflecting the problem and the federal response, Nunes met this week
with Tulare County officials who pressed for more government
assistance. This includes securing $300,000, currently included in the
Senate's Interior Department spending bill, for helping the county
chase marijuana growers off public lands.

In this, the federal government plays several roles. Swinging the
spotlight may be the simplest.

Walters' trip to Fresno and adjoining areas Tuesday and Wednesday will
be his second to the region as drug czar. He has a far more subdued
profile than some of his predecessors, like retired Army Gen. Barry
McCaffrey and one-time Secretary of Education William Bennett.

Under Walters' watch, the White House has periodically tried to cut
funding for the high-intensity drug trafficking area task forces like
the one serving the Central Valley.

But Walters, who formerly served as Bennett's chief of staff, also has
a White House official's inherent ability to help set the public
agenda. A news conference Wednesday with local prosecutors and drug
fighters will further rivet attention to the public land pot-growing

Uncle Sam's money is even more welcome by local officials. It comes in
several forms. One is an earmark in an annual appropriations bill,
like the $300,000 that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., secured in the
Senate bill for helping the Tulare County Sheriff's Department fight
pot on national forest land.

"The invasion of drug trafficking organizations on federal lands
constitutes a danger to visitors, agency employees and fire
suppression teams and damages pristine wildlands, requiring intensive
restoration," the Senate Appropriations Committee stated in its bill

The House and Senate still must agree on the final funding

Another form of federal aid comes through ongoing programs, like the
Fresno-based Central Valley HIDTA, which coordinates anti-drug efforts
between Sacramento and Bakersfield. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake