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NORML.ORG US CA: Marijuana Groves Spreading Into Valley

July 28, 2011   ·   0 Comments

Daily Headlines

by Rick Elkins, The Porterville Recorder, (Source:Porterville Recorder)
27 Jul 2011

California
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More than a dozen Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies spent Tuesday tending to a garden – an illegal marijuana garden with more than 4,000 plants just north of Terra Bella. 

The proliferation of illegal marijuana groves apparently run by the Mexican cartels on the Valley floor has reached alarming proportions, noted Lt.  Tom Sigley who heads up the TSCD narcotics enforcement team. 

“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these on the Valley floor ( in Tulare County ),” he noted as officers worked to cut down and haul off the 6- to 12-foot tall plants. 

On Road 248, just south of Avenue 100, officers raided the illegal garden early Tuesday. 

They found 21 separate grow sites enclosed in makeshift aluminum fences and plastic covering spread around an olive grove.  The plants were growing higher than the fences, in some places actually were pushing up the plastic covering.  The smell of the growing marijuana could be detected from the roadway more than 300 yards away. 

Four people were detained at the site, including the son of the property owner, said Sigley. 

Assisting the sheriff’s office were county code enforcement officers, environmental health, county building inspectors, county animal control and the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, including Ag Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita and several of her staff.  The ag people were a bit surprised by how few chemicals they found, saying for an operation that size they would expect to find more.  Also, they found evidence insecticides and pesticides were being sprayed on the plants — plants that someday would have been smoked by some unsuspecting marijuana user. 

Several dogs were rounded up and one dog was found dead, still tied to a post and badly malnourished. 

Sigley said no weapons had been found at the site. 

No value was given on the seizure, but it was estimated to be in excess of $ 10 million. 

Cartels involvement

Sigley said the growing operation was very similar to what officials found in the foothills and Sequoia National Forest in past years and to some lessor extent, this year.  It now appears those cartels are using the vast open spaces of the San Joaquin Valley. 

“Based on the volume we’re seeing, we know those growers have moved their groves down here,” he said. 

In each of the 21 plots there was a medical marijuana recommend letter to allow the growing of the drug for medical purposes as allowed by law, but Sigley said the number of plants found more than quadrupled what was allowed.  Some of the medical marijuana recommends were written by area doctors, some by doctors in Southern California.  Sigley said some of the recommend letters may have been forgeries. 

At each plot there was a small campsite for the tender. 

“This is just like a cartel grow in the forest,” he said. 

For Sigley and the sheriff’s department, the trend of Mexican drug cartels now on the Valley floor is alarming. 

“They can do it down here so we’re not finding as much up there,” he said of fewer plots being found on the forest despite a wet winter and spring.  All total, 78 grows in the mountains were eradicated last year. 

At the Terra Bella site, the effort to conceal the gardens was weak at best.  Sigley said the site was spotted from the air, but they busted the same site last year.  That time, they only took away any plants above what their medical recommend allowed, but this time the number of plants so far exceeded what the letters allowed they eradicated it all.  He said it was likely those detained would be charged with cultivation of marijuana, but he was not certain they would be prosecuted. 

Sigley said with the drug cartels now involved in large growing operations in rural areas, including Terra Bella, Plainview and other small unincorporated areas, it is only a matter of time that some of the violence associated with those cartels spills onto the streets of Tulare County. 

Some at the scene said there are many marijuana gardens in Plainview and other officials have said Alpaugh and Seville both are being plagued by the gardens. 

Medical Pot Problems

It appears that those who illegally grow and sell marijuana are trying to take advantage of the medical marijuana law.  In most instances, an individual can get a letter that allows them to grow up to 99 plants, but they are seeing some doctors in the Los Angeles area now writing recommends allowing for as “much marijuana as they need.”

“It’s getting ridiculous,” Sigley said of those obtaining medical marijuana cards to grow marijuana for illegal uses.  Also, rural property owners are being offered cash – sometimes thousands of dollars – to allow a person with a medical marijuana card to grow the plants. 

“I heard from one property who was offered $ 5,000 up front and $ 20,000 at end of harvest,” the lieutenant said. 

Tulare County does allow the growing of marijuana if a person has a medical recommend letter.  However, there has been disagreement over whether a garden with more than the stated maximum is a criminal issue, or a civil issue for code compliance to deal with. 

“All we can do is come out and do a compliance check,” he said of how the sheriff’s office is limited.  He said if the garden is more than allowed, then they can charge them with cultivation. 

To be in compliance, the marijuana must be grown in an enclosed structure with an alarm system.  No odors are to be allowed outside.  The Terra Bella site busted Tuesday was not in compliance. 

Sigley said he has yet to see a legal garden. 

“I’ve yet to find one with five or 10 plants and their suffering from glaucoma,” he said. 

He would like to see more regulation and a policy that would require those who grow pot for medical reasons to register with the county.  Right now that is voluntary. 

“There needs to be accountability,” he stressed as huge piles of marijuana plants were being loaded into a truck. 


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