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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Central Valley | Drug War
The Drug War Comes to Eastern Fresno County
A major operation to confiscate marijuana in eastern Fresno County is currently underway. Save Our Sierra (SOS) is, according to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, targeting growers who are affiliated with Mexican Drug Cartels. These growers, again according to Mims, are destroying public lands with their drug operations. When questioned, Mims would not name one Mexican Drug Cartel involved or say how many of them where active in growing marijuana in Fresno County. Skeptics think operation SOS is more about justifying bloated law enforcement budgets by scaring people into thinking that an environmental calamity is being perpetrated by violent Mexican Drug Cartels. Photo below is Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
Fresno County was the focus of the War on Drugs, as Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, the Drug Czar), came to town. Kerlikowske and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims held a press conference to announce operation Save our Sierra, which has now resulted in 90 arrests and approximately $1.6 billion worth of marijuana plants seized.
Mims said Mexican drug cartels are behind most of the marijuana being grown in the Sierra mountains, east of Fresno. At the time of last Wednesday’s press conference, 81 of the 82 people arrested in the raids were Latinos. Speakers emphasized the damage done to the environment by marijuana growers, displaying fertilizers, pesticides, and trash left behind at the camps.
But Nancy Botwin (not her real name), a marijuana grower at the 3,000 foot elevation in eastern Fresno County with over 10 years of experience in the business, said she has never seen any sign of the Mexican Mafia in the Sierra. Botwin says she has, however, seen plenty of evidence of the SOS campaign. “They have been flying back and forth in their military helicopters for a couple of weeks now,” Botwin said. “A couple of days ago they hovered over a garden a few hundred yards from here. What that did was tell the locals where the pot is at. Sure enough, a local teenager went down and harvested the pot and he was busted later in the day.”
Botwin says most of the people she knows are growing “legal” medical marijuana. But, Kerlikowske, when questioned if he considered marijuana a dangerous drug that should demand the level of resources in this campaign said “marijuana is dangerous, it has no medicinal benefit and that is why it is a schedule 1 drug in the Controlled Substances Act. If you look at the number of people that call hotlines across the country, not just here in California, for help because of addiction, you clearly see that marijuana is, if not at the top depending on location, very close to the top.”
In a Media Advisory sent July 22 it was announced that over 300 personnel from 17 local, state and federal agencies were involved in the operation. Sheriff’s officials said they have confiscated over 400,000 plants in Fresno County this year. Last year, 137,409 plants were destroyed. That now makes Fresno County one of the top marijuana producing counties in the State (or at least a county where a lot of marijuana plants have been confiscated). Last year Lake County was #1 with 499,508 plants and Tulare County (just south of Fresno) was #2 with 395,489 plants seized.
Botwin thinks we are all losers in the “War on Drugs.” She said “they are cutting back resources to our schools, reducing county employees hours, our healthcare system is going to hell in a handbasket and they have the audacity to waste taxpayer money on this so-called SOS campaign. Why is preventing a cancer patient from getting medicine to stop his or her suffering so important to these people? I think they are just trying to justify their bloated budgets by blaming it on Mexican Drug Cartels.”
The argument about environmental degradation to public lands did not impress Botwin either. “I think that is just BS. They are crying crocodile tears over a minor problem. They spread pesticides from one side of the San Joaquin Valley to the other, it drifts into schools, it causes birth defects, and where is Sheriff Mimms and the drug Czar when that is happening? In fact, it is right wing zealots like those behind operation SOS who are screaming to ‘Turn on the Pumps,’ which would probably bring about the loss of an entire species of fish. It is just all so hypocritical.”
The drug wars are likely to play out on another front in the City of Fresno as two new medical marijuana dispensaries have just opened. The ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries says the facilities will be allowed only if they are “consistent with state and federal law.” When in Fresno, Kerlikowske was asked if a medical marijuana dispensary would violate federal law. He said that he expected the Attorney General to issue new guidelines soon that will clarify the situation.
Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (AKA, the Drug Czar).
A part of operation SOS is to reach out to the youth to convince them that marijuana is a dangerous drug.
Operation SOS officials said that this is what the Mexican Drug Cartels are using to destroy our forests.
As of July 22, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office reported that they had:
284,460 plants destroyed (that number is now over 400,000)
31 pounds of processed marijuana seized
25 weapons seized
5 search warrants served
This is medical marijuana which was NOT confiscated in the SOS raids.