Pubdate: Sat, 11 Aug 2007
Source: Union, The (Grass Valley, CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Union
Author: Robyn Moormeister
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Amount Exceeds Profit of Milk, State's Top Legal Product

This week's pot farm raids in Nevada County highlight the explosion 
of marijuana cultivation, now the largest cash crop in California.

Last year, narcotics investigators seized 2.8 million marijuana 
plants, valued at $11.07 billion. In 2005, the total value of 
marijuana production was estimated at $7.6 billion, officials said.

Both figures well exceed the profit from milk production, the state's 
top legal commodity,

"Marijuana is a multibillion-dollar industry in California," federal 
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Gordon Taylor said. 
"Billions of dollars are being made. You can tell from the seizures."

In 2005, law enforcement agents in 41 of 58 California counties 
reported seizing a total of 1.9 million marijuana plants during raids 
at illegal outdoor plantations, he said. Taylor estimated each plant 
seized likely could fetch $4,000 or more, depending upon the quality 
of the buds and where the drug is sold.

By contrast, in 2005 the state's farmers and ranchers turned a legal 
profit of $31.7 billion on 400 different commodies, according to the 
latest statistics from the California Department of Food and 
Agriculture. Milk earned farmers $5.22 billion - more than $2 billion 
less than marijuana.

The federal government's estimate of marijuana profit is 
conservative, Taylor said, adding that law enforcement seizes only a 
portion of the actual marijuana crop, and not all counties report 
their seizures to the DEA.

"You can't measure what you don't know," DEA Special Agent Casey 
McEnry said. "But we can talk about the increase we've been seeing."

McEnry and Taylor report seeing a marked increase in large-scale 
outdoor pot farms in California since 2004.  They attribute the 
growth to Mexican drug traffickers who are less willing to risk 
crossing the border with their crop.

"There is increased border security and when drugs cross the border, 
traffickers need to pay a fee to couriers who have a higher risk," 
McEnry said. "Any time any load crosses the border there's increased 
risk to these organizations. They risk detection, arrest and seizure."

For example, 2.8 million marijuana plants were seized from the 
outdoor grows on California's public lands just last year, Taylor said.

The increase, he said, is attributed to an upswing in both 
trafficking and law enforcement.

In Nevada County this year, law enforcement has seized a total of 
38,261 plants in outdoor raids, a value of about $191.3 million, law 
enforcement officials said.

Local law enforcement says more pot farms likely haven't been 
discovered: The Yuba River canyon is "littered with (marijuana) 
gardens," Nevada County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Evans said after raid near 
the Yuba River earlier this week.

Law enforcement does what it can to sniff out and eradicate the 
gardens - most often operated by Mexican drug-trafficking 
organizations - although surveillance can get expensive.

A rented helicopter costs more than $700 per hour, Evans said.

Some Nevada County residents say profit from marijuana production 
shouldn't be funding drug traffickers, but rather, the local community.

"I resent that (Mexican drug traffickers) are growing weed in this 
area, but the money is not spent in this area," Washington resident 
Mickey Stefan said during a raid on public land Tuesday. "It's 
ridiculous. And the rumors that (drug traffickers) are using money to 
finance meth labs is really not good. That really (angers me). Meth 
is just horrific."

Many drug trafficking groups will use the profit from marijuana sales 
to fund other illegal drug operations, including meth "superlabs," 
according to local narcotics agents.

Drug trafficking organizations are different than some Californians 
who exploit their medical marijuana recommendations to turn a smaller 
profit, according to local narcotics agents and federal law enforcement agents.

"The Mexican mafia is an exremely violent gang enganged in marijuana 
cultivation," Taylor said. "They're getting more brazen in where they 
grow. They're growing closer to civilization and recreation areas."

To view the California Agricultural Resource Directory 2006, go to


ARE WORTH BETWEEN $2,500 AND $5,000.

"What we generally estimate is, each plant is a pound of marijuana," 
said DEA Special Agent Gordon Taylor. "Each pound of marijuana on the 
street will go for $4,000, and that's very conservative. It could 
even be higher, depending upon where it is sold. High-grade marijuana 
from California is distributed across the country."

Many medical marijuana dispensaries in California sell an ounce of 
marijuana for $300 and a pound for $4,800.

Experienced pot growers will engineer their farms to produce 
high-quality female plants, which produce the valuable bud, or "cola."

Growers will often remove and discard the male plants.

Number of Plants Reported Seized by Law Enforcement in California:

2004 - 1,268,648 plants, worth $5.07 billion

2005 - 1,902,985 plants, worth $7.61 billion

. Source: The United States Drug Enforcement Administration 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake