Pubdate: Thu, 27 Aug 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Cannabis Plant Seizures Are at Their Lowest Point in Years.


As America's multibillion dollar cannabis industry continues to 
expand, the nation's drug cops are seizing less weed.

In 2009, the first summer of Barack Obama's presidency, a record 10.4 
million marijuana plants were eliminated in America, according to the 
federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

California alone accounted for 7.5 million plants that year, 
according to the DEA's annual report on its "Domestic Cannabis 
Eradication/Suppression Program," one of the biggest multi-agency law 
enforcement efforts in the country.

It was also a record year for the California Department of Justice's 
own Campaign Against Marijuana Planting - CAMP, as it is known and 
cursed throughout the state's pot-producing regions. 
Helicopter-riding police associated with CAMP accounted for 4,463,917 
plants destroyed, the highest in CAMP's 31-year history. (The DEA 
total likely includes CAMP's number, though a spokeswoman for 
Attorney General Kamala Harris was unable to confirm this by press deadline).

Five years later, with recreational cannabis legal in two states and 
medical marijuana spreading even to the Bible Belt, plant seizures plummeted.

In 2013, the most recent year in which national data was available, 
the DEA reported eliminating 4,395,000 million plants, according to 
Special Agent Eduardo Chavez, an agency spokesman. In California, 
seizures dropped to 2.9 million plants.

The state has chilled out even more. Last year, CAMP reported 
destroying 836,596 plants, the lowest total since 2004. (To give you 
an idea of how far we've come since then, 2004 was the year that DEA 
agents raided a six-plant garden in Nevada City. Six plants, 
everybody.) Likewise, DEA's California numbers dropped in 2014 to 
just under 2.7 million plants.

A decrease of 7.5 million to 2.7 million in five years is a 
spectacular drop, but does it mean the war on cannabis is ending?

And if so, who won?

Loquacious after a big bust, law enforcement declined to participate 
in this story. A spokeswoman for the DEA said the agency would have 
no comment beyond providing statistics. Messages left for the 
Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino county sheriff's departments were 
not returned; a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, 
which administers CAMP, did not answer questions by press deadline.

It's true that attitudes on cannabis have changed more in the last 
few years that in the preceding few decades. Congress has removed 
funding for messing with state-legal weed from the Justice 
Department's budget (though that has no impact on the DEA's ability 
to work with the Forest Service and local law enforcement to rub out 
illegal grows), and federal legislation that would allow cannabis to 
be researched and accessed more easily has record support.

Anecdotally, at least, it appears that law enforcement has also 
shifted its approach. Last summer, the bad old days were revived for 
a few weeks by sheriff's deputies in Mendocino County, who descended 
from helicopters to "summarily eradicate" - read: destroy without 
warrant or warning - pot patches, a legal move under a section of 
case law called the "open fields clause." This summer, authorities' 
most visible presence has been visits from agencies like the state 
Water Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Cannabis 
policing now looks for water use or land-grading violations before 
sending in police.

"In our opinion, that's a good thing," said Hezekiah Allen, a onetime 
grower who now lobbies the state Legislature on behalf of cannabis 
farmers for the Emerald Growers Association. "If you're trying to end 
a war, visits from code enforcement are better" than military-style 
raids, he said.

The summer's big raids fit this more selective pattern. An 
industrial-sized farm on tribal land in remote Modoc County was 
raided after tribe members complained. Similarly, a big eradication 
effort on Yurok tribal land in Humboldt came at that tribe's request. 
And authorities gave water use violations, not plant counts, as the 
main reason behind a big raid in the Island Mountain region of Humboldt.

At the same time, growers' attitudes appear to be shifting. They're 
moving away from cannabis's longtime home hidden in the redwoods.

CAMP is still busiest in the North Coast, where Trinity (90,283 
plants seized last year), Mendocino (66,818) and Humboldt counties 
(37,455) comprise the famed Emerald Triangle.

However, more plants were reported seized in Lake (83,635), Tulare 
(66,509), Shasta (60,143), and Sonoma (52,593) counties than in Humboldt.

Even Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, had more 
plants seized (39,538) than Humboldt.

As cannabis becomes more accepted, this trend will continue. It is 
simply easier and more feasible to operate industrial-sized 
greenhouses near highways and population centers - like in the 
Central Valley, minutes from Interstate 5 - than on a remote 
mountaintop far from the nearest highway. That's one reason why one 
of the year's biggest busts, an 11,000-plant operation, was near 
Fresno and not Ferndale.

But make no mistake: There's no peace yet, and bad players are still out there.

Over half of the pot seized by CAMP last summer was on publicly owned 
land, either national forests, national parks, or tribal land. As 
long as there are renegade grows, there will be helicopter-riding police.

But nearly everywhere else, it appears the drug war really is ending. 
For proof, just look to the sky.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom