CNN reported Wednesday that Mexican drug cartels are growing weed on federal land in California. U.S. attorney, McGregor Scott, said the illegal grows are not just folks growing weed in the woods, but rather an organized operation growing approximately 1.4 million marijuana plants annually on national forest lands such as Yosemite National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The grow sites are hidden within the massive forests. The cartels clear large areas for cultivating marijuana, while depleting and contaminating the water supply and wildlife. Yosemite alone stretches more than 1,200 square miles.
Drug Cartel Environmental Danger
Major General David Baldwin from the National Guard said the drug cartels have done damage to the environment by using toxic chemicals that are banned in the United States, adding there has been a significant increase to environmental degradation on federal land.
Carbofuran is a toxic pesticide banned in the U.S. for food crops because it contaminates the water and can lead to the death of plants, animals, and humans. Officials found that 78 percent of the illegal cultivation sites tested positive for carbofuran.
Scott said at a news conference that the illegal cultivators are using the toxic pesticides as rodent killer to protect their marijuana crops, not as a pesticide.
“They’re just throwing it wholesale on the ground where the animals are eating it," Scott said. "This is a game changer, because it’s a lethal poison.”
He stressed the country's federal parks and forests are national treasures with priceless resources that must be protected from criminal organizations.
Drug cartels have gone as far as carving roads into the sides of hills and baiting wildlife with poison, bleeding the animals to death in order to clear an area for illegal grows. Illegal growers also leave behind plastic pipes and irrigation lines, human waste and toxic garbage when they are finished with a site, causing further pollution.
California federal lands have always had illegal cultivation sites, but Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said that they are overwhelmed by policing the illegal grow sites as of late, adding that “We’ve been besieged in recent years.”
According to the Integral Ecology Research Center, toxic chemicals at illegal marijuana cultivation sites have increased 66 percent since 2012.
Black Market of Biblical Proportions
Scott said California has a massive black market for marijuana cultivation.
"It is of biblical proportions," Scott said, adding he's not wasting time targeting operations with proper state licensing, but is going after cartel-funded illegal marijuana cultivation operations.
Bill Ruzzamenti directs the Central Valley California High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and said the illegal cultivators work for the Sinaloa and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Mexican drug cartels.
The Sinaloa cartel is the largest drug cartel in Mexico and is also known to be extremely violent. The Drug Enforcement Administration says the Sinaloa cartel poses the greatest criminal threat to the country. The cartels protect their illegal marijuana crops with armed guards and booby traps using tripwire connected to shotguns.
The government allocated at least $2.5 million to chase illegal cultivators in California. Scott said prosecutors are also charging illegal cultivators with environmental degradation, but the Trump Administration has hindered law enforcement because they changed EPA policy.
Mexican drug cartels earn between $19 and $29 billion every year from the selling illegal drugs in the United States. Scott says that there are more than 16 million acres of federal forest land in the U.S. which could never be fully eradicated from illegal cultivation, noting that the resources will be directed into enforcing law on federal lands and protecting endangered species.