Pubdate: Thu, 13 Mar 2008 Source: Daily Triplicate, The (CA) Copyright: 2008 Western Communications, Inc. Contact: http://www.triplicate.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2151 Author: Nicholas Grube, Triplicate staff writer Cited: Del Norte County Sheriff http://drugsense.org/url/EQGogkHd Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Marijuana - Medicinal) FUNDS TO FIGHT POT CROPS DOUBLED 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 said. "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 grows." 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."