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Marine Reservists Wage War on Marijuana Crops in Caribbean


October 1995

In the islands of the Caribbean, a U.S. Marine Reserve operation has been seeking and destroying small, covert patches of marijuana planted by local farmers (Jon R. Anderson, "'Red Dogs' Battle Drugs in Caribbean," Navy Times, July 3, 1995, p. 26).

The Marines use Huey helicopters to navigate the dense vegetation surrounding the small and remote growing operations. Getting to these plots of land is made extremely difficult because of a lack of landing space, high altitude and heat, unpredictable wind patterns, and the possibility that farmers will take up arms to protect their crop.

Rastafarians plant the small crops of marijuana in these remote areas knowing it is unlikely that the local police will find them. Some of the farmers use the crop to supplement their other farming income, and some use a portion of the marijuana for their spiritual practices.

The Marine Reservists conducting these operations are armed only with M-16 rifles. Although they say they must be prepared for gunfire from farmers who happen to be in the area when the eradication operations are taking place, they have seen no such incident yet. When the operations began, the Marine Corps was informed that there were strict limitations on the number of firearms allowed on the islands. Marine officials say that those restrictions will have to change if reservists are to be sent in again.

Anti-drug activities have shifted from interdiction and Central American eradication efforts in recent years. Marine officials say that bounties have been placed on U.S. aircraft in Central America, making it too difficult to patrol that region. Reservists are used for a number of reasons, mainly to allow the Marine Corps to supplement its budget with anti-drug funds without expending full-time Marines. The reservists also gain training and airtime from the Caribbean operations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) scouts these locations on islands such as St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Kitts, and Trinidad and pays for the reservists to eradicate the crops.