Associated Press, 2-29-2012
Sacramento, Calif. — The top federal prosecutor in the Central Valley said Tuesday that he plans a tour this week to tell agricultural landowners they could lose their property or be prosecuted if they permit large marijuana plantations on their land.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner will visit the Fresno County Farm Bureau on Thursday and the Kern County Sherriff’s Department on Friday to warn of the federal crackdown.
Investigators have found large marijuana fields primarily in the southern part of the valley, from Stanislaus County to Kern County, Wagner said in an address to the Sacramento Press Club. The crackdown targets landowners who allow their properties to be used for marijuana cultivation.
Wagner called the large-scale operations “a hazard to people in those farming communities.”
Ryan Jacobsen of the Fresno County Farm Bureau welcomed the news. He said residents are endangered by the marijuana grows, which often are operated by absentee landowners.
“It looks like it’s mostly outsiders. It’s not most of the mainstream farmers and ranchers who have been there for generations,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of this is not necessarily being grown for California medicinal marijuana use. A lot of it’s being exported to other states.”
He and Wagner said the marijuana plots are often on the scale of industrial farming.
“We’re not talking about backyard size. One bust was 55 acres. There’s many, many 20-acre parcels down here that are being fully grown with marijuana. It’s probably on a scale much, much larger than most people are familiar with,” Jacobsen said. “There’s guard towers that have gone up in the middle of ag lands to protect the grows.”
California narcotics officers said they found millions fewer pot plants on remote public lands last summer, largely because they believe growers have shifted to growing in plain sight with the hope that California’s medical marijuana law would make prosecution by state district attorneys more difficult.
Investigators said growers frequently lease the land, though some growers are small farmers supplementing their incomes. Other crops may be grown to hide the growing marijuana plants.
“Those farmers who plant large crops of marijuana or who lease their land to people who do are risking forfeiture of their lands or, in the egregious cases, criminal prosecution,” Wagner said.
He was met with criticism before and during his speech from those who said the federal government should not interfere, given California’s liberal medical marijuana law.
California law permits the drug to be cultivated and supplied to sick people on a nonprofit basis. Federal officials say many clinics profit under the pretense they are helping the sick.
Wagner said investigators have found that some medical marijuana dispensaries were generating $10,000 to $50,000 in profits each day, selling marijuana for twice what they paid for it.
“That’s not about sick people. That’s about money,” he said.