Marijuana operations expand onto Central Valley farmland

Issue Date: March 20, 2013

As law enforcement officers improve their ability to put pressure on marijuana growers operating on forested or public land, those growers increasingly move to private, agricultural land, according to panelists at a session on trespass marijuana grows held at the California Farm Bureau Leaders Conference last week.

"We've really seen the transition to ag land," said Sarah Moffat, field representative for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "Tulare County has now reported 1,400 ag (marijuana) grows. They are not alone. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office said in 2012 they had 1,000 ag grows, and Fresno County is coming up behind with about 400 marijuana grows. This is happening and is pretty much taking over everything."

All panelists emphasized that landowners must be careful if they happen to stumble upon an illegal grow on their farm or ranch, and report anything suspicious to law enforcement.

"What Sen. Feinstein really wanted me to express to you is that she wants to be a federal partner and ally in the surge on your lands," Moffat said. "She would encourage you to work with law enforcement agencies and report to (law enforcement) immediately if you have someone growing on your lands."

Moffat reported that Fresno County had six homicides related to agricultural marijuana grows just in the past year.

"You don't know what they are; you don't know if they are going to retaliate, so it is best just to always go to law enforcement," Moffat said. "Don't try and deal with it yourself."

Tulare County Sheriff's Department Ag Crimes Unit Deputy Jordan Whaley, who is also a county Farm Bureau director, noted that marijuana growing on the farm can usually be detected by smell. These grows, he said, are often not left unattended and the sites are surrounded by a plywood fence. For insect control, growers cover the marijuana plants with netting that is used in citrus groves to prevent cross pollination.

The Jere Melo Foundation recommends that people who become aware of a cultivation site do the following:

  • Stop and back out immediately.
  • Leave the way you came in.
  • Make as little noise as possible.
  • Leave the area and find a safe place.
  • Report the encounter to law enforcement, including as much detailed information about the location and incident as you can recall.

— Christine Souza

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.