Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gangsters Going Green in our National Forests: Marijuana Green


Yesterday, I introduced the Federal Lands Counterdrug Strategy and Enforcement Enhancement Act (H.R. 5645), legislation designed to combat drug trafficking on our nation’s public lands.

Drug traffickers, primarily Mexican and Asian drug gangs involved with cannabis cultivation and marijuana distribution, are increasingly using our nation’s public lands to operate large-scale operations. Eighty three percent of all plants eradicated from U.S. forests between 2004 and 2008 were removed from national forests in California. Sadly, Tulare County recorded three consecutive seasons in which the number of marijuana plants seized exceeded $1 billion.

This illicit activity poses a significant threat to our nation and those Americans who choose to camp, hike, hunt, ride, or otherwise use our nation’s public lands.

Traffickers find the remoteness of the public lands appealing as it reduces the risk of detection. By cultivating marijuana on our public lands, international drug trafficking organizations avoid the risk and expense of smuggling their product across the border. It also makes distribution less risky because it can be easily driven to major cities, where it is distributed to street dealers. Accordingly, cultivation of marijuana is expanding from the “M7” states (California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia) into Utah, Idaho, Texas, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

Drug traffickers also are growing increasingly aggressive toward law enforcement officials and members of the public who enter the area in which drugs are being cultivated and produced. They are encircling their plots – some of which have as many as 75,000 plants – with crude explosives and patrolling them with firearms, including AK-47s. In one instance reported last year by The Washington Post, two Lassen County law enforcement officers were wounded by a gunman guarding a grove on Bureau of Land Management property. In another incident, an eight-year-old boy and his father were shot after they accidentally stumbled onto a hidden marijuana grow in El Dorado County. One Placer County law enforcement official reported that, “In every garden, every single encounter, we find weapons.”

Moreover, drug traffickers are causing serious and extensive environmental damage to our public lands. Animal poisons are used as are chemical repellants, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides – many of which are banned in the United States. Traffickers often pour fertilizer directly into streams and pools and run it through their homemade irrigation systems. The use and abandonment of these and other hazardous substances – such as gasoline – results in toxic levels of chemicals in the soil, groundwater, streams, and rivers. Eventually, these hazardous substances enter our residential and agricultural water supplies.

I find this situation utterly unacceptable. We cannot meaningfully address drug trafficking on public lands without a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy has been authorized and developed for the southwestern border and I am firmly convinced that one should be done to better combat drug trafficking on public lands.

The legislation that I have introduced will directly address this situation by requiring the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop a strategy to combat drug trafficking on public lands. My legislation will also increase the penalties available for cultivating or manufacturing drugs on public land.