California's CAMP Program Cracks Down on Illegal Marijuana Grows

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on October 08, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

CAMP'ing in the National Forest is not your typical family weekend. To crack down on Mexican drug cartels' illegal marijuana grows on federal and state land, California created CAMP, or Campaign Against Marijuana Planting.

CAMP just wrapped up a 12 week sting operation that blanketed Northern, Central, and Southern California. The string operation uncovered over 250 illegal grow sites, many in national parks and on state land using public water, which resulted in 52 arrests, the seizure of 614,267 cannabis plants and 110 weapons, according to state officials.

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

This recent crackdown was not just an effort by California police. It was a multi-agency collaboration between numerous government agencies, including the California Department of Justice, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Forest Service, the United States Department of Interior, the National Park Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the United States Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration, the California National Guard, the California Bureau of Land Management and the Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and other local law enforcement departments.

CAMP sting operations are high-profile, well-orchestrated, and will continue for years to come, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Mexican Cartels Using Public Land for Private Gain

Historically, public land marijuana grows were quintessentially Californian. In the past, California grow sites were created by hippie types growing a couple hundred plants. They were laid back and non-confrontational. This started to change about 10 years ago.

Now, more than 90% of the groves uncovered are tied to Mexican nationals growing marijuana for black-market drug sales. These growers are destroying public land while reaping a huge profit, and are often armed, which could be dangerous for visitors to public parks and hikers in public lands. Growers tend to be affiliated with various Mexican drug cartels such as the Sinaloa cartel and Jalisco Nueva Generación, according to Bill Ruzzamenti, director of the Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.

Public Use and Misuse of Natural Resources

Mexican cartels' use of public recourses to grow marijuana is a major concern in California, which has more than 16 million acres of rural national forest lands. Not only is public use at issue, since these growers use public land and public water, destroying watershed for their financial gain, but CAMP is also concerned with public contamination.

The chemicals cartels use are quite toxic, including carbofuran, which is banned in the U.S. on all crops grown for human consumption. Carbofuran seeps into soil and streams, kills plants and wildlife, and affects humans who hunt and consume animals poisoned with carbofuran. Approximately 78% of the illegal marijuana grow sites had signs of carbofuran, demonstrating how wide-spread and alarming this toxicity can be.

In addition to toxic contamination, these sites tend to be environmentally hazardous, including heaps of trash, dirty black tarps and makeshift log cabins where workers live in filthy, hazardous conditions. CAMP is hoping to curb these toxic, illicit grow sites before California's beautiful natural resources go to pot.

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