SACRAMENTO — The San Francisco Bay area produced nearly a third of the marijuana plants seized in California this fall, eclipsing the 16 percent seized in the North Coast’s “Emerald Triangle” area that once accounted for the majority of the locally grown crop.
That reflects a dangerous trend toward huge pot farms tied to Mexican-based drug cartels that also produce and distribute narcotics, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said while releasing the statistics Tuesday.
More than 101,000 of the 313,776 plants seized this growing season were in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Sonoma and Napa counties in the Bay Area. Officials aren’t sure if that reflects an increase in production or merely better law enforcement efforts there.
The Central Valley, which last year accounted for half the seizures because of four large pot farm discoveries, this year produced 23 percent of the seized plants. Last year set the record with seizures of 345,207 plants, nearly triple the number seized in 1997 and 1998.
Northern California had about 22 percent of seized plants this year, including 54,504 in Tehama County south of Redding, the most of any county.
Santa Clara County in the Bay Area was second, with 47,574 plants, followed by Mendocino in the Emerald Triangle and the Bay Area’s San Mateo County.
About 70 percent of marijuana farms statewide, and about 80 percent in the Bay Area, had apparent ties to Mexican drug cartels, Lockyer said.
Most frequently, armed immigrants tend and guard farms hidden in remote areas of state and national forests and other public land, he said, where they pose a danger to unsuspecting hikers and hunters.
Those same cartels are increasingly involved in producing and distributing methamphetamine and other drugs, Lockyer said.
Methamphetamine labs provide the “seed money — no pun intended — for the marijuana operations,” said California Department of Justice spokesman Mike Van Winkle.
The cartels have found it is generally easier to grow or manufacture the drugs in the U.S. than it is to smuggle them across the border, he said.
The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) has existed since 1983, and this year involved officers from more than 70 state, federal and local agencies under the supervision of Lockyer’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
They conducted 149 raids in 23 counties from late July through early October, the prime growing and harvest season, made 20 arrests and seized 19 weapons along with the plants they valued at about $1.25 billion.
On the Net: http://caag.state.ca.us