Idaho No Small Potato Growing Illegal Pot

Aug 1, 2012

Law enforcement seized about *40,000 marijuana plants this week in a raid in a remote part of eastern Idaho. That's more than five times the amount of pot nabbed last year in the state.

California grows the most pot in the country by far. Though the state has legalized medical marijuana, law enforcement seizes more than three million illegally grown plants a year in the golden state. Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and Kentucky come in next, each with several hundred thousand. Idaho doesn't make the top ten but, Douglas James with the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration regional office in Seattle says it’s no small potato.

“We’ve found that the drug trafficking organizations like remote areas," James says.  "They like to grow their plants away from public view, away from law enforcement scrutiny. So states like Idaho, there are extremely remote areas, lots of national forest land. They can seclude themselves and grow their marijuana without hindrance.”

James says most of the big operations, such as the one east of Pocatello this week or the 3,600 plants found in Gooding County last week, are carried out by Mexican cartels. The product is usually bound for east coast cities. But the number of busts fluctuates widely from year to year.

“We hit them hard in one state, and they tend to shift and move to adjoining states," James says. 

He points to Utah, where law enforcement agents have been particularly busy. At the same time Idaho illegal pot production slowed. Nearly 78,000 pot plants were seized in Idaho in 2009, last year, around 7,000.  But so far in 2012, federal, state and local officers in Idaho have already seized about 45,000 plants. Each plant yields about a pound of pot which can sell for more than two thousand dollars.

*Initial reports estimated the Caribou County grow operation at 10,000 plants. Sheriff Ric Anderson now says the final count is 40,292 plants, with a street value of $80.5 million. Anderson says the grow resembled a traditional farm with well tended rows and five miles of irrigation pipe. It was in a very remote mountain location at around 7,000 feet elevation. He says evidence links the operation to suspects in Las Vegas with ties to Mexican cartels.