Pubdate: Thu, 13 Mar 2008
Source: Daily Triplicate, The (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Western Communications, Inc.
Author: Nicholas Grube, Triplicate staff writer
Cited: Del Norte County Sheriff
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


As marijuana cultivation blossoms in Del Norte County, the federal
government is nearly doubling its funding for local law enforcement to
combat the growth.

Last year nearly 26,000 plants were pulled from public lands
throughout the county and more than 1,200 plants were seized from
indoor growing operations. That represented more than a 600 percent
increase from 2006 when approximately 4,000 plants were taken from
public lands and 465 from indoor grows.

Both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Forest Service are
giving money to the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office to continue its
fight against the illicit plant, kicking in a combined $42,000 to the
department. This is an increase of $20,000 from last year.

"We'll be able to go out and do a lot more interdiction this year than
we did last year," Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson said of the
extra money.

Most of the funds will go toward eradicating marijuana gardens in Del
Norte County's public lands, such as the Smith River National
Recreation Area. Last summer's marijuana raids in Northern California
counties, including Del Norte, Humboldt and Shasta, netted record
numbers of plants and is the reason for the increased funding, Wilson

"We all had record numbers of marijuana crops pulled last year," he
said. "It just shows that there's a lot more (illegal growing
operations) going on."

Detective Sgt. Steve Morris, who heads the sheriff's department drug
task force, said much of the money will be used to pay for deputies'
overtime, as well as for helicopters to locate outdoor growing operations.

"One of the shortcomings of last year was helicopter time both in
searching for the marijuana in the outdoor grows and with the size of
these grows," Morris said. "We had to airlift the marijuana out so it
could be processed and destroyed."

At $600 to $700 per hour, paying for helicopters drained the marijuana
eradication budget, he said, limiting the amount of ground the
sheriff's office could cover to locate gardens.

"That extra money is going to help us a lot," Morris said, adding that
it "will allow us to do some real investigations and stake out to
gather evidence against the growers."

But eradicating outdoor marijuana gardens is not the only enforcement
the federal funds pay for. As a stipulation of the $24,000 from the
Drug Enforcement Agency, the sheriff's office must also combat illegal
indoor growing operations.

"Marijuana is not a medicine for the federal government," Morris said.
"We're going for the indoor growing operations as well as the outdoor

California's medical marijuana law--Proposition 215--gives permits for
possession and cultivation of marijuana with a prescription. In Del
Norte County, this law allows for 99 plants in a 100-square-foot
cultivation area and possession of one pound of processed pot.

These guidelines are for the District Attorney's Office, Morris said,
not law enforcement officers who will arrest someone if they are
suspected of abusing the law. Then, he said, having a medical
marijuana card only serves as a defense in court.

"We investigate marijuana as a drug. It's not a medicine," Morris
said. "If they have a medical marijuana card, then they can explain it
to the judge."