Throughout the US and Canada, pot-haters are bragging about record outdoor marijuana busts in the wake of 2004’s harvest season.
Although federal governments have yet to release complete figures, police in high-cultivation zones are already boasting about the damage they’ve done. In California, which historically has the largest outdoor marijuana crops in North America, the Campaign Against Marijuana Production (CAMP) claims to have destroyed 471,128 plants last fall.
In Canada’s high grow zones the numbers were much lower, but still impressive. Police in Quebec told media that they had destroyed 61,970 plants. In BC, where no official number has yet been released, police took more than 50,000 pot plants in a handful of heavily publicized raids. A sweep of Eastern Ontario alone found cops cutting down 30,500 cannabis plants.
Meanwhile, the size of plantations seems to be going up. In Tuolumne County, California, two gardens containing 11,308 plants and 12,012 plants, respectively, were eradicated in September, and an 18,926-plant garden was cut down in August.?
A raid in the remote community of Seymour Arm, BC, netted 20,000 plants on October 6. The raid was the culmination of a two-year RCMP investigation, and made headlines across Canada. Over 150 officers wearing balaclavas and body armor descended upon the isolated inhabitants in patrol cars, unmarked Chevy Suburbans, a helicopter and even a large, chartered houseboat. Charges of cultivation were laid against 15 of the town’s 90 permanent residents.
A lengthy article in Canada’s National Post newspaper profiled some residents charged in Seymour Arm, presenting them favorably as “poor farmers just struggling to get by.” The article pointed out how the town’s whole economy revolved around the marijuana trade, and quoted one grower saying, “The only violence and intimidation we ever encountered was the day last week when the police raided our house and pointed guns at us.”
Apart from the occasional rat, huge busts are largely the result of helicopter surveillance. Commander Marc Colla of California’s United Narcotics Enforcement Team (UNET), who oversaw the eradication of 17,000 plants last fall, explains his method for catching growers with helicopters.
“Sometimes they make a mistake and use a white fertilizer bag they forget to cover up, or something that shines,” he told the Gilroy Dispatch last August. “Once in while we’re lucky and we get people [attracting attention by]running through the brush.”
Ask Canadian lawyer and pot activist John Conroy about the swelling size and number of outdoor busts, and he will tell you that it is the inevitable outcome of astronomical pot prices driven up by prohibition.
“The more this goes on, the more people will try to go bigger and better, just like any capitalist enterprise,” he told Cannabis Culture. “The strategy of overgrowing the government will eventually be successful. They are damn naive if they think they are going to stop that.”
War on ditch-weed
Cannabis Culture called US NORML Executive Director Allen St Pierre and discovered the unthinkable: the US federal government is responsible for growing more outdoor weed than even the most green-thumbed gang of ganja lovers.
“In past years, hemp stock makes up almost 96% of the cannabis eradicated,” explained St Pierre. “It’s actually ditch-weed left over from the World War II crop that the US government grew for the war effort. They often claim it’s recreational, but it isn’t.”
An example of such cannabis chicanery can be found in Oklahoma, where state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Director Russ Higbie crowed that he had solved Oklahoma’s outdoor pot problem once and for all, taking down the final 6,000 plants in Red River valley last fall. According to St Pierre, however, Red River isn’t famous for its smokeables: the majority of its eradicated crop is just ditch-weed, aka hemp. Most locals know it, he says, and many have expressed their distaste for the practice in letters to the editors of local papers.
Ironically, says St Pierre, the government is still hemp’s best farmer today.
“They will come for these crops with two or three helicopters, hauling large, rubber mesh bags with two and half to four tons of material that has largely gone to seed. On the way to the burn pit, 10 or 20 miles away, thousands of seeds drop out of the bags, and police literally seed their own jobs for the next year. Then they burn the hemp and take pictures for the media, claiming to have taken millions of joints off the streets. It’s a big dog and pony show.”
A 2003 eradication report from the US National Institute of Justice emphasizes St Pierre’s point. The figures are the latest available and show that of 246,858,587 outdoor cannabis plants eradicated that year, only 3,427,923 were strong enough to get you high, pegging the percentage of recreational plants eradicated at a measly 1.4 percent. The states with the lowest percentage of recreational marijuana eradicated are Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin.
The US federal government, St Pierre estimates, spends $1.5 to two billion per year whipping up anti-drug hysteria over a plant that lamentably could not even get a mouse high.
As St Pierre concluded ruefully, “It’s all about getting taxpayers to spend more money.”