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State Patrol reports fewer large marijuana grows on public land

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) located a decreased number of large, outdoor marijuana grows on public land during the 2013 summer growing season.

WSP attributes the continued decline to nine years of aggressive eradication efforts and keeping the pressure on Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) that notoriously misuse public lands to grow large quantities of marijuana, according to a Nov. 26 State Patrol media release.

Marijuana eradication teams this year eliminated 39,113 plants, which is down from 216,010 in 2012, and from a high of 609,133 in 2009.

“Our goal has been to keep Washington from becoming a source state for marijuana,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste. “Everyone has seen the violence that comes with the illegal drug trade, and we will not let that happen here.”

The effort to locate illegal outdoor grow sites was on a par with previous years, but fewer large grow sites were found. Law enforcement did notice an increase in smaller grow operations, indicating a change in tactics in an attempt to evade detection. However, even those sites were located and abandoned.

“Information we received during other drug investigations lead us to believe that DTOs were feeling the constant pressure from our successful eradication program,” said Captain Wes Rethwill, commander of the State Patrol’s Investigative Assistance Division. “There’s no better indicator of success than having your adversary simply pack up and leave.”

The large outdoor grow sites targeted for eradication not only produce marijuana, but are dangerous and environmental disasters.

• Growers dam creeks and divert natural water sources to provide irrigation;

• They clear otherwise natural areas to plant their crop;

• Growers use harmful pesticide and fertilizer;

• They frequently terrace the land to provide level growing areas;

• Some growers have been known to booby trap their grow sites.

Eradication is accomplished by first identifying and locating the illegal grow sites. Because they are on public land, search warrants are not needed. After locating these grows, specially trained teams of local, state and federal officers carefully approach the sites, checking for armed guards and/or booby traps. Once the area is deemed safe, officers pull the plants, hauling them and the debris and garbage left behind away for destruction.

“No single agency could do this by themselves,” Rethwill said. “This continues to be a partnership between police agencies at all levels - local, state and federal. These partnerships show the great things we can accomplish when we break down jurisdictional boundaries and collaboratively focus on solving a problem.”

The jury is still out on whether the DTOs have entirely abandoned the idea of these large outdoor grows, or simply moved to other states.

This year officers also saw a decrease in what has come to be known as “corn grows,” where DTOs sneak onto a farmer’s land and plant marijuana in the center of what would otherwise be a vast cornfield. Then growers harvest their illegal crop prior to the landowner harvesting their legitimate corn crop.

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