California forest purged of marijuana

LAW enforcement officials have revealed they struck a major blow against illegal drug cultivation on public lands in the heart of Northern California marijuana country.

In the two-week operation to purge the Mendocino National Forest, 460,000 marijuana plants were uprooted and more than 100 people arrested, US Attorney Melinda Haag said yesterday.

About 680 kilograms of processed marijuana, 27 guns and 11 vehicles were also seized.

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The 900,000-acre forest spans six counties in a region of mountains and forests known as the Emerald Triangle because of its high concentration of marijuana farms. Agents raided more than 50 gardens teeming with rubbish, irrigation pipes and chemicals that damage the environment, authorities said. "The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers," Haag said.

The operation was part of an annual summer effort to eradicate marijuana from public lands across the state. Six sheriff's departments, the state anti-narcotics bureau and at least a half-dozen federal agencies took part in the operation.

Spearheading the raids was Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who in his years on the job has had to balance county medical marijuana ordinances with state law and the complete federal ban on the drug. Allman said none of the gardens busted showed any sign of being used to grow medical marijuana.

Each summer for the past several years, authorities report seizing millions of plants from local, state and national parks, forests and other wilderness areas. Public lands are often favoured by clandestine growers for their remote locations and rugged terrain.

In previous years, officials have blamed Mexican drug cartels for some of the state's largest growing operations. Haag declined to comment on where those arrested in the current operation were from but said 25 are already facing federal charges.