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Article Summary

Marijuana Cultivation

Much of the outdoor cannabis cultivation in the United States occurs in remote areas on federal lands. A considerable number of cannabis plants are eradicated each year on NFS lands and, to a lesser extent, DOI lands. The number of cannabis plants eradicated on NFS lands increased from 2002 (597,797) to 2003 (729,481) and far surpassed eradication on DOI lands in both 2002 (168,645) and 2003 (263,356).

Law enforcement reporting indicates that cannabis cultivation sites have been discovered on NFS and DOI lands throughout the United States. However, most cannabis cultivation on federal lands appears to be occurring in California and Kentucky, where a large number of plants have been eradicated in recent years. Marijuana producers cultivate cannabis on federal lands in plots that vary in size from a few plants, cultivated by independent marijuana producers for personal use, to tens of thousands of plants cultivated by organized criminal groups for wholesale-level distribution.

Officials from the California Department of Justice report that under the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program, law enforcement officers seized a record 466,054 cannabis plants in 182 raids in 32 counties during the fiscal year (FY) 2003 eradication season (July through October). Seventy-five percent of the plants seized were growing on public lands, and 84 percent were, according to law enforcement sources, from grows operated specifically by Mexican DTOs. Twelve of the grows contained more than 10,000 plants each. Officials also seized 50 weapons and arrested 35 individuals during the raids. Agencies involved in the eradication operations included California Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), BLM, Forest Service, and California National Guard, as well as numerous county sheriff's departments and local police departments throughout the state. The CAMP eradication figures illustrate the trend toward Mexican DTOs increasingly growing cannabis in California to avoid smuggling marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border. According to program statistics, the percentage of plants seized from grows operated by Mexican DTOs increased from 69 percent in FY2001 to 74 percent in FY2002 to 84 percent in FY2003. In addition, officials report a significant increase in the number of plants cultivated in large cannabis grows, which typically are operated by Mexican DTOs. According to CAMP authorities, in the late 1990s large grows typically contained 3,000 to 5,000 plants; in 2003 large grows typically contained 5,000 to 10,000 plants, with several having 30,000 to 40,000 plants. Correspondingly, marijuana seizures within 150 miles of the California portion of the U.S.-Mexico border have decreased during this time.

NFS Lands in California

California is a significant domestic marijuana source area, and producers cultivate substantial cannabis crops on federal lands within the state, particularly on NFS lands. According to Forest Service reporting, 8 of the 10 leading national forests for cannabis eradication both in 2002 and 2003 were in California, stretching from the Cleveland National Forest near San Diego to the Six Rivers National Forest near the Oregon border, and they accounted for 420,866 of the 597,797 cannabis plants eradicated from NFS lands in 2002 (70%) and 540,567 of 729,481 cannabis plants eradicated in 2003 (74%). Once the site of the largest cannabis eradication on NFS lands, California's Cleveland National Forest, located near San Diego, ranked second to Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest. Nonetheless, the number of cannabis plants eradicated annually from the Cleveland National Forest alone exceeds that eradicated from lands in most individual states.

Mexican DTO's in California

Law enforcement and Forest Service reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs control a significant portion of cannabis cultivation on federal lands in California and finance large cultivation sites (typically 10,000 to 30,000 plants). Mexican DTOs often employ and arm undocumented aliens from Mexico to live in camps at grow sites and tend the plots. Caucasian independent producers also produce marijuana on federal lands in California--particularly in Northern California--and typically are longtime residents who run family-based operations or deal with brokers as part of a confederation of local cannabis cultivators.

Marijuana Cultivation in Kentucky

Kentucky also is a significant domestic marijuana source area, and much of the cannabis cultivation in Kentucky occurs on federal lands, as it does in California. The Daniel Boone National Forest, located in Eastern Kentucky, led all National Forests for cannabis plants eradicated, accounting for 29 percent (213,229 of 729,481) of cannabis plants eradicated on NFS lands nationwide in 2003.

Many marijuana producers in Kentucky are residents of the area, mostly Caucasians, who run family-based, vertical operations (controlling cultivation through distribution) or who deal with a broker as part of a loose confederation of marijuana producers. According to the Forest Service, these groups and individuals typically maintain smaller plots of cannabis than do Mexican DTOs and usually travel long distances from their homes to sites scattered throughout remote areas of federal lands in order to tend their plots.

Cannabis Seizures on National Forest System Lands in Other States

On October 8, 2004, Washington County Drug Task Force agents in southern Utah seized the largest cannabis grow site in that area's history and arrested three Mexican national males at the site and a fourth the next day near St. George. A hiker discovered the cultivation site, which included over 1,500 cannabis plants, and reported it to law enforcement officers in the area. The site was located along a stream in a secluded area near the Pine Valley District of the Dixie National Forest. Task force agents subsequently seized 814 cannabis plants growing among scrub oak trees, 764 plants in the drying stage, and 50 pounds of processed marijuana. Cultivators used a gravity-flow irrigation system that allowed water from a nearby stream to flow through plastic tubing to the grow site. Law enforcement authorities believe that several other accomplices may have left the area for southern California or Mexico.

Source: Washington County (UT) Drug Task Force.

On July 18, 2003, officials from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office and the USDA Forest Service reported seizing more than 8,700 cannabis plants in the Mt. Olympus Wilderness Area of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The plants were discovered by a hiker who noticed an irrigation pipe leading to the grow site. The hiker notified Forest Service officers who, along with deputies from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, searched the area and found a campsite, four males, two 144-square-foot, mesh-covered nurseries containing small, potted cannabis plants, and a 6,000-square-foot plot containing cannabis plants at various stages of growth. The officers also discovered a gravity drip-feed system that the cultivators were using to irrigate the site from a natural stream located more than one-quarter mile away. As the officers approached the site, the four suspects fled into the dense forest and evaded apprehension. Several days later, Forest Service officers arrested one of the suspected cultivators--a Mexican national--after identifying him as he walked on a road approximately 4 miles from the cultivation site. He was charged with manufacture of a controlled substance by cultivation and aiding and abetting. The other three suspects remain at large.

Source: Salt Lake County (UT) Sheriff's Office.

On October 21, 2003, USDA Forest Service officials announced the eradication of 5,100 cannabis plants that were discovered in the Umpqua National Forest. Forest Service employees found the cannabis plants on September 29 while performing stream surveys in the National Forest. The employees then notified Forest Service agents. Forest Service agents, along with investigators from DEA, Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Roseburg Police Department, Oregon State Police, and Oregon National Guard, searched the area and determined that the grow consisted of four separate plots on 5 acres. No arrests were made in the incident. This is an unusually large cannabis grow for NFS lands in Oregon. Forest Service officials report that the size of outdoor cannabis cultivation sites discovered on NFS lands in Oregon has increased over the past several years. Previously, cannabis grows of 200 to 300 plants were considered large grows for NFS lands in the state; however, grows consisting of several thousand plants now are being discovered. The results of the increased seizures of larger cannabis grows can be seen in Forest Service seizure data: 24,930 cannabis plants were seized on NFS lands in Oregon during 2002, a significant increase from 2001, when 2,354 plants were seized. Law enforcement reporting indicates that one reason for the increase is that in the past, local growers were responsible for the cannabis grows. Increasingly, however, Mexican DTOs are hiring workers--often illegal aliens--to establish and maintain the cannabis grows. Although this has resulted in more plants being cultivated, some law enforcement officials report that the plants are smaller and of lower quality.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

DOI Lands

. Data regarding cannabis eradication on DOI lands is not available on a state-by-state or regional level. However, DOI eradication data for 2003 show that of the 263,356 cannabis plants eradicated on DOI lands, most were eradicated on lands managed by BLM (116,661 plants), followed by BIA (99,778 plants), NPS (46,171 plants), and FWS (527 plants).

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