For the fourth consecutive year, San Benito County ranked as one
of the top 10 regions in the state in seizures of illegal marijuana
For the fourth consecutive year, San Benito County ranked as one of the top 10 regions in the state in seizures of illegal marijuana plants.
The state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Production reached a record 354,164 plant seizures this fall, worth an estimated $1.4 billion, according to a new report from the state Attorney General’s office.
According to the report, San Benito County was 10th in the state in the eradication of marijuana from illegal gardens with 9,599 plants seized, worth an estimated $38.4 million.
Although the number of plants is smaller than in eradication operations over the past few years, it was significantly higher than the number of plants seized in neighboring counties. There were 6,301 plants seized in Santa Clara County; 3,286 in Monterey County; and 175 in Santa Cruz County, the report said.
“This is very serious and my office has taken a very strong enforcement posture to push the growers out of this county,” San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill said.
He said while it was good to have CAMP come in and eradicate the large gardens, primarily in the south county, its also a bad sign.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Hill said. “It’s bad in that the growers are still coming here and planting these gardens, but it’s good in that we’re finding them and pulling them out.”
San Benito County has been one of the largest producers of marijuana in the state over recent years, according to the report.
During the past four years, the county has ranked third in the state in marijuana seizures with a total of 84,020 plants eradicated. Only Mendocino (232,729) and Fresno (104,396) counties had more plants seized during the same period, according to the report.
State officials say higher street prices – as much as $4,000 per pound – make marijuana cultivation a fast-growing industry.
Along with the growing market, state officials said drug organizations have adopted more efficient techniques for the production of pot in other areas.
“Around seven or eight years ago, the Mexican drug organizations applied the same corporate approach to growing and distribution that many legitimate businesses use,” said state Department of Justice spokesperson Michael Van Winkle.
He said the drug cartels often take advantage of desperate, undocumented Mexican nationals to care for their illegal enterprises.
“They know that they are being paid better out there than they would be in the typical agricultural job,” Van Winkle said. “And they can’t point to who the organizers are because they never meet them.”
More than half of all the pot plants seized were grown on public land, where armed growers can pose a danger to unsuspecting hikers and hunters, he said.
In 2000, a father and son hunting on their private land in El Dorado County were shot by growers tending their garden.
Since the CAMP program started nearly 20 years ago, more than 3 million pot plants have been seized – nearly half of them in just the last four years.
About 74 percent of marijuana farms raided this year had apparent ties to Mexican drug cartels, which sometimes find it is easier to grow pot in the states rather than risk smuggling it across the border, Van Winkle said.