Pubdate: Thu, 22 Mar 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A - 13
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Robert Collier
Note: From MAP: This article is a sidebar to the front page article 
'Perils Grow In Battle For Medical Pot'
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


The controversy over medical marijuana is obscuring a related trend, 
say federal and state anti-drug officials -- the end of California's 
hippie pot-growing era.

"Of the big gardens, 95 percent of the major grows are by Mexican 
nationals, while before, they were run by hippies," said Bill 
Ruzzamenti, director of the federal government's Central Valley High 
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area initiative.

Most of these growers use undocumented immigrant workers to grow the 
pot on large plantations hacked out of the wilderness on state and 
federal park and forest land, clearing the brush surreptitiously and 
using harsh chemicals that pollute water supplies, the officials say.

"Over the last five years, there has been a huge influx of Mexican 
nationals who grow on public lands," said Kent Shaw, associate chief 
of the state's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. "The majority of 
those, 80 to 90 percent, are actual gardens operated by Mexican 
national drug lord organizations, no doubt, the drug cartels."

The worry of involvement by Mexico's ultra-violent drug cartels has 
gained a lot of public attention, but some officials suggest that the 
intelligence information is too weak for such claims.

"Whether or not the major Mexican trafficking organizations are 
involved in cultivation up here is something we just can't say," said 
Javier Pena, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Northern 
California division.

Most observers say the Mexican-grown pot goes almost exclusively to 
the recreational marijuana business and has not yet affected the 
medical marijuana industry, which sources its pot mainly from 
old-style growers.

"We buy from people we know, people who are vouched for," said 
Richard Lee, owner of SR-71, a medical marijuana store in Oakland. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake