Marijuana grows in the valley are an alarming trend. That's the news the Drug Enforcement Administration is sharing with the Kern County Law Enforcement Foundation. The DEA found 1,500 grows this year alone.
Now, the DEA wants land owners to know they can lose their property if they rent to someone who starts a grow. And, they want those who think they can hide behind state laws and traffic marijuana, to know they are coming for you.
In the middle of valley farm land, illegal crops are popping up. There are rows of marijuana plants, some towering, taller than agents. And, other pot crops are tucked away in backyards. But, they are not going unnoticed by the DEA.
"We started seeing individuals coming down to the valley floor, renting farmland, and then putting up commercial style marijuana grows production," said Resident Agent- in-Charge Carl Beckett with the DEA.
While in Kern County, it's illegal for those licensed to grow more than twelve plants per parcel. Outlying counties like Tulare, allow up to 99 plants. Agent Beckett says it's part of State Proposition 215 called the "California Compassionate Use Act" which was passed in 1996 for people with legitimate medical issues to grow marijuana. Now, he says the law is being abused.
"However, what it's turned into right now is a commercial enterprise, a drug trafficking organization to hide behind Proposition 215 to grow marijuana," explained Beckett.
The DEA is now looking for those grows and using federal laws to shut them down. This year so far, 400 have been eradicated. Agent Beckett shared pictures and information at a presentation to the Kern County Law Enforcement Foundation, of which Jon Busby is president.
"Afterward, there were a lot of people stating I didn't know. I had no idea there was that much marijuana growth in Kern County," said Busby.
Agent Beckett says most of the people they capture are undocumented immigrants. And, finding them is getting more dangerous, with grows booby-trapped. Plus, Beckett says there were no shootouts in 2010. Last year, there were nine.
"It seems to lend more towards the Mexican drug trafficking organization," said Beckett.
Now, the DEA is spreading the word to land owners to be careful to whom you rent land. If they find a pot grow before land owners do, the property can be seized.
"California is known for its agriculture. We would like for it to be still known for that. So, we would rather work with the land owners, educate them. That way we can eliminate a threat before it becomes even a bigger problem," said Beckett.
Agent Beckett says the DEA sends land owners a letter if they find illegal pot grows on their properties. They give them a period of time to get the growers out.