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Drug Czar Visits Tulare Pot Site: New Program Will Raid Marijuana Gardens of Mexican Drug Cartels.

August 6, 2008

By Lewis Griswold, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Aug. 6–The nation’s drug czar chopped down marijuana plants growing deep inside the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County on Tuesday.

John Walters, who holds the Cabinet-level position as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, came to California to bring attention to a new locally coordinated, but partly federally funded, marijuana eradication program to raid marijuana gardens planted on public lands by Mexican drug cartels.

“We intend to shoot these down,” Walters said.

U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott joined Walters in a helicopter ride to a remote location to remove plants, then both spoke at a news conference in Visalia.

Scott said those arrested for growing 1,000 or more marijuana plants on public lands face minimum 10-year terms.

Mandatory minimum sentences “make criminals talk,” Walters said approvingly.

“Talking criminals is what you need to go after the higher-ups.”

Mexican drug cartels are coming to the United States to grow marijuana because of tightened border security, Walters added.

The new program the drug czar came to Tulare County to highlight has been dubbed Locating Organized Cannabis Cultivators Using Saturation Tactics. It involves 14 federal state and local law enforcement agencies, each contributing personnel and equipment, and is coordinated by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. The department received a $200,000 grant from Office of National Drug Control Policy to find “grow sites” and raid them.

The raids, using helicopters from the Air National Guard and involving about 220 law enforcement agencies, have targeted 63 gardens, the Sheriff’s Department said. An additional 20 sites have been identified, but are still to be raided. The operation started in late July and will continue until all have been raided, officials said.

So far, 340,685 plants have been discovered, and 36 people arrested. Most of those arrested for cultivating marijuana on federal lands are Mexican nationals, Scott said.

Walters said public perception that marijuana is harmless is out of date. Marijuana addiction is a major problem for young people today.

“For those of the baby boomer generation who started this stupidity, I want you to know this is not the marijuana of the 1980s,” he said. The marijuana being eradicated in national parks “is not something raised by some retired hippie.”

The reporter can be reached at lgriswold@fresnobee.com or (559) 622-2416.

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