Joint operation busts Marin pot farms

”]SAN RAFAEL – A collaborative effort between state, federal and local law enforcement resulted in a raid that snagged thousands of marijuana plants in remote areas of Marin County.

The action began near dawn on Thursday, targeting marijuana gardens located on lands controlled by the Marin Municipal Water District. Similar busts were carried out in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

The team that conducted the operation included personnel from the Drug Enforcement Agency, California Department of Justice and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. Three helicopters provided support as officers on the ground entered roughly half a dozen pot-growing sites scattered along the eastern hillside of Kent Lake.

According to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, the cultivators had constructed sophisticated infrastructure, employing irrigation as well has heavy doses of fertilizer and pesticide.

The growing sites are located near a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the surrounding area, and a press release from the sheriff’s office expressed the concern about “caustic and dangerous chemicals that can seep into the watershed.”

Lt. Barry Heying, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said that during previous eradication efforts officers had found chemicals that were banned by the EPA long ago due to safety concerns.

Growers are not concerned about the environmental impact of their activities, Heying said, noting that “when you’re running an illegal operation you aren’t being very careful to comply with EPA laws … and certainly these are lawless operations.”

A press release alleged that pot farmers remove indigenous plant species to make room for marijuana, a process that can cause soil erosion.

Law enforcement agencies took a new approach this year, conducting the raid earlier in the growing season to prevent plants from reaching maturity rather than waiting until they had produced crops ready for sale.

Lt. Heying said that law enforcement officials are concerned about the possibility of violent encounters between unsuspecting hikers and individuals protecting the illegal crops.

In other cases in California, the guards have been armed, Heying said. The people who run pot farms “are worried about people stealing from them, and some pack guns are willing to shoot it out,” he explained. Across the state, there has recently been an uptick in the number of such incidents.

Press coverage about the raid that took place in Marin County last year reported that there had been several contacts between members of the public and people guarding the pot farms.

There were no arrests made during the course of the June 30 operation, though Heying said that officers believe a few individuals may have been present at the grow sites when police arrived but were able to slip away.

The spokesman declined to comment on whether the farms seized on Thursday were controlled by a single organization, citing an ongoing investigation being conducted by the DEA, Marin County Sheriff’s Office and the National Park Service.

During last year’s raids, which also targeted multiple locations, officers found “indications that these were coordinated as opposed to somebody who decided to go off and grow something by themselves,” Heying said.

The raid destroyed more than 12,400 individual plants, which could be expected to yield crops with a street value of roughly $30 million.

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