This month growers across the U.S. are harvesting illegal marijuana plants. The number of plants seized by law enforcement has dropped nationwide, but Northwest growers aren’t backing down. In fact, they’re just changing tactics. Lt. Mark Brogan is with the Washington State Patrol.
“We’ve found several this season, which usually is the month of August, early part of September, and late July," Brogan says. "We’re finding grows, I would say almost daily.”
Brogan was among officers who seized marijuana plants near Goldendale, Wash. - one of the most recent illegal sites he and his team have found.. Brogan works on the Cannabis Eradication Team through the patrol.
“A criminal will always take the path of least resistance," he says. "If it’s easier to jump over the border to Idaho, than have us do it because we’ve been doing this so long and we have had high plant counts and we’re actual eradicating their efforts, it makes sense for them to go into another state.”
That’s where Idaho comes in. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Jodie Underwood points out that Idaho has had remarkable dips in its illegal seizures in recent years. In 2009 law enforcement found nearly 78,000 plants, in 2010 that was down to 22,000, and last year, a meager 786 pot plants. But things have changed in 2012. Officers have pulled up nearly 60,000 plants. And it’s only September.
“Keep in mind that they’re always changing, so tomorrow they could go up quite a bit or a little bit," Underwood says. "Just every day they’re a little bit different.”
She also says they expected a later season because of weather this year, so more big busts could be on the way.
Brogan says growers are getting more creative. A lot of these grow operations don’t resemble the vast, green marijuana fields you see in movies. Growers are sneaking into perfectly legal corn fields, and planting pot there.
“We’ve found several grows in farmers fields already, inside corn fields, and the farm has no link to it,” Brogan says.
He says they might find several thousand plants in one cornfield.
California still produces the most pot. But when law enforcement started seeing drops in plant seizures there, they created a new eradication team to scout out nearby states where farmers may have moved.
Operation Mountain Sweep began this summer across seven states, including Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. So far, authorities have eradicated nearly 580,000 illegal pot plants from public lands. That’s $1 billion on the street.
Copyright 2012 Spokane Public Radio