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Marijuana Growing in California Increasingly Under Mexican Direction, Police Say


November-December 1997

Police say marijuana cultivation in California is no longer the exclusive domain of local growers but has shifted largely to Mexican traffickers (Dan Weikel, "Mexican cartels tied to state's illicit groves of marijuana," Los Angles Times (Washington Edition), September 15, 1997, p. B1).

Police say that the traffickers' biggest gains have been made in Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt counties (CA), which, together, make up the so-called "Emerald Triangle." Mendocino authorities have confiscated a record 160,000 plants this year, about half of what has been found in the entire state. Sgt. Ron Caudillo of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department estimates that 85% comes from Mexican-run operations. Special Agent Tommy LaNier, who supervises U.S. Forest Service Investigations said, "In the past, we had hippie types growing a couple hundred plants. They were laid back and nonconfrontational. This started to change about 10 years ago. Now, more than 90% of the groves we uncover are tended by Mexican nationals."

Since the price of marijuana from the region is about $4,000 a pound wholesale, the pressure to safeguard crops has risen considerably for growers. Mexican growers have reportedly started to carry firearms more than their predecessors. Federal statistics show that the number of firearms seized at outdoor marijuana farms in California has increased more than 25%, from 423 to 550, over the last five years. [Such a statistic does not mean firearms are more frequently seized unless the number of seizures has increased by less than 25%. -- EES]

Police say Mexican growers have an extra incentive to cultivate marijuana in California because the land belongs to somebody else and they do not risk the loss if there is a forfeiture.