Talk about a big bowl … Marijuana is heli-lifted from a bust in the Glass Mountains in 2009. The 16,000 plants had an estimated street value of $6.4 million.
Ballot measure speaks “heady” debate
Marijuana growing may have started out as a casual, cottage industry back in the day, but lately it’s big business. According to a July 21 story in the Wall Street Journal, competition between growers in the state of California is pitting the north against the south in a battle for pot profits. Northern California’s so-called “Emerald Triangle” has historically been the center of the state’s pot production.
Lately, however, drug enforcement agencies have had to widen their scope to include Southern California, which has arguably upped the ante when it comes to bragging rights for the nation’s most productive pot garden.
The Journal’s report stems from the results of a huge marijuana-eradication operation in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, where cultivation is on the rise. Law-enforcement agents seized more than 734,000 pot plants in Los Angeles County last year — the highest number of seizures in the U.S. for that year. The haul surpassed those even in California’s most-prolific northern counties, with the biggest 2009 seizure coming from Shasta County at 629,000 plants.
And as with any illegal industry, with American gang ties to Mexican and Central American drug cartels, the danger to the general public has probably never been higher. The Eastern Sierra backcountry has recently seen its share of large-scale pot confiscations and brushes with armed pot growers, and the same scenario seems to be playing out down south. Most of L.A. County’s marijuana is grown in the Angeles National Forest. U.S. Forest Service and Sheriff’s Department officials recently warned ANF hikers about the presence of pot farms, and the armed guards and booby traps that come with them.
Drug smuggling may be down, but that’s only because growers have opted to cultivate their pot closer to their U.S. market. Subsequently it’s no wonder the national forests have become attractive to drug cartels. With hundreds of thousands of rugged and mostly empty and wilderness that is not patrolled, our public, federal lands afford growers remote open space, a perfect growing climate, little competition and a base close to home.
The California electorate will weigh in this coming Nov. 2 on whether taxing pot to help the state out of its sinking budget rowboat is a good idea. On the general ballot will be Prop 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. According to Ballotpedia, Prop 19, if approved by voters, “will legalize various marijuana-related activities … and impose and collect marijuana-related fees and taxes.”
The Prop carries with it local government regulations and penalties for law infractions. Medical marijuana is already legal in California since the passage in 1996 of Prop 215.
In 1972 California’s voters rejected a similar ballot initiative (also called Prop 19) that sought to legalize marijuana by a margin of 66-33 percent.
Poll data is a mixed bag. A July 11 Survey USA poll indicated 50 percent of respondents favor Prop 19, with 40 percent opposing and 11 percent undecided. On the flipside, however, a Field Poll taken between June 22-July 5 showed that more voters (48 percent) oppose Prop 19, as opposed to 44 percent who support the initiative, with 8 percent undecided.
Even if it’s passed, the initiative faces uphill legal challenges. Federal law currently still prohibits the growing and sale of marijuana, and lawyers are already drafting suits to file in various courts should state voters approve Prop 19.