Local law enforcement officials joined their federal counterparts Wednesday to deliver a unified message: Marijuana farming operations in the foothills and mountains of the Sierra Nevada are dangerous to citizens and the environment.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, joined local sheriffs Margaret Mims of Fresno County, John Anderson of Madera County and Bill Wittman of Tulare County at a town hall in Clovis to discuss their concerns over marijuana-growing operations on public lands, the Fresno Bee reports.
“This is industrial scale, and it is happening on property that belongs to you,” Wagner told the audience.
A year ago, Kerlikowske came to the central San Joaquin Valley on a similar mission — to highlight marijuana-eradication efforts.
Today, the five are expected to announce the results of a similar effort.
As part of that, several people have been charged recently in U.S. District Court in Fresno on marijuana-growing charges.
Unfortunately, the panelists said, the problem is getting worse, not better.
All five panelists stressed that the focus is not mom-and-pop marijuana grows, but large-scale operations in the mountains. They said those tending the fields are mostly armed, which is a public-safety concern. Many aren’t U.S. citizens, which involves federal immigration enforcement.
Beyond that, they said the grows are using pesticides and fertilizers not approved for use in the U.S.
They are poaching local wildlife, including deer and, possibly, bears. They are fouling water supplies with such things as rat poison. They clear-cut trees and leave behind large amounts of garbage.
Last year, Mims said, officials pulled out 56 miles of irrigation drip lines.
Wagner said the spread of marijuana being grown locally by Mexican drug cartels is probably because the drug is bulky and has a strong odor. Thus, it is hard to smuggle across the border — especially one that is harder to cross since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Because of limited resources, the panelists said, the only way to fight back is to work together — not just counties, but state and federal law enforcement, too.