Matthew Lickona 11:13 a.m., May 24
State Marijuana Eradication Program Scaled Down
California’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, in existence for nearly three decades and responsible for the eradication of millions of cannabis plants on both public and private land, was cancelled this year due to state budget cuts and replaced with a scaled-down, renamed initiative.
The new Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team will operate with two fewer helicopter teams than in years past, with the state divided into three regions instead of five. These crews are important not only for spotting clandestine grow operations but in transporting agents to the often remote locations and transporting destroyed plants offsite.
“The cost for a helicopter, which airlifts about 5,000 pounds of plants, garbage and equipment from these sites, is about eight to ten thousand dollars an hour,” Patrick Foi, a warden with the California Department of Fish and Game, said in Gilroy Patch.
The Reader recently covered the story, in detail, of how a forest raid is conducted.
Last year, the Campaign removed about 2 million plants, most from federal and state property, down from 4 million in 2010. It’s expected the budget cuts, along with an increased effort to actually clean up the sites where cannabis is found (removing pesticides, fertilizers, and plastic irrigation tubing installed by growers) will further reduce this year’s total take. Removal of infrastructure, however, puts a dent in growers’ ability to bounce back from a raid – officials say it costs between $30,000 and $40,000 to set up a large-scale marijuana farming operation.
“I don't expect our numbers this year to be as high as last year, however, we never start the year by saying we're going to get more,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman told SantaRosa’s Press Democrat. “We are going after the larger grows that are most destructive.”
In large part, the program change amounts to a handoff of enforcement responsibility from the state to the federal government, which had already been funding about 95 percent of the state program through grants in recent years.