Pubdate: Tue, 15 Apr 2008
Source: Union Democrat, The (Sonora, CA)
Copyright: 2008 Western Communications, Inc
Author: Alisha Wyman
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Tuolumne County's marijuana suppression efforts are facing a $177,000 
cut beginning July 1.

The Sheriff's Office is looking for alternative sources to replace 
the funding. If there are none, the cuts could squelch the county's 
marijuana eradication efforts, at least temporarily, officials said.

The money funds two of the four Tuolumne County Narcotics Team 
detectives who are dedicated to uprooting marijuana gardens.

It also covers District Attorney's Office costs for prosecution, more 
than $31,000 of equipment used during the raids, training for the 
detectives, and part of the rent in the building housing TNT.

Should there be no other source for the money, Sheriff Jim Mele may 
be forced to reassign TNT detectives to other units.

Investigating and eradicating one garden alone takes considerable 
manpower, Mele said in a written statement.

"If we are unable to find some way to fund these positions, our 
ability to detect and eradicate the marijuana grows from our forest 
lands will be severely impacted," Mele said.

Mele wasn't available for comment in person because he was in 
meetings Monday with the state Sheriff's Association and the Drug 
Enforcement Administration, which has helped the county in the past, 
said Tuolumne County Sheriff's Capt. Keith Lunney.

Marijuana Suppression Program funds come from the Office of Emergency 
Services-Criminal Justice Programs Division.

It's possible that funding may be available again in 2009-10, Lunney said.

"But in the meantime, we're looking at a reorganization to keep the 
program going for another year," he said.

The office could shift money to the program from other departments 
where openings can't be filled, Lunney said.

Officials also are scouting for other grant possibilities or money 
from federal sources.

But many other agencies are facing cuts to their marijuana programs, 
so competition for funds is steep, and other drug enforcement grants 
could be in line for cuts, Lunney said.

Tuolumne County is among the top 10 counties in California for 
marijuana eradication.

"This type of program really guarantees a lot of public safety on 
forest and public lands," he said.

The Tuolumne County Narcotics Team, with the help of other agencies, 
destroyed 107,739 plants last year, said Sgt. Scott Johnson, 
narcotics unit commander. That bested the record set the previous 
year of more than 80,000 plants.

"This year has the potential to be another record year if we have the 
manpower, because the problem's not going away," he said.

CAMP, a state program that helps with eradication, will still be 
available, but it's up to Tuolumne County investigators to find the 
gardens and do investigations into who is running them, Johnson said.

"Every garden that we don't find and we don't eradicate is one that 
goes out on the street and makes money for organized crime," he said.

Calaveras County wouldn't be affected by this particular cut, since 
it doesn't receive Marijuana Suppression Program funding, said Tracy 
Busby, the supervisor of the narcotics unit.

Applications for other grants will come out in July.

"We'll be submitting them and see where we stand," he said.

Until he hears for sure, the program is moving forward as usual.

With the state eyeing cuts to education, law enforcement and other 
areas, "everybody's a little nervous," Busby said.

"This is probably going to be an ugly year for everybody, but we'll 
keep our fingers crossed," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom