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Mexican drug cartels target California ghost marijuana industry

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Joel Merrifield, Councilor for Round Valley Indian Tribes
It’s not Mexico, but it’s happening here. This worries our seniors, 80 and over, who do not feel safe here.

Merrifield, who is recovering and working with youth at the Round Valley Indian Health Center, said he believes marijuana should only be used for medical purposes, such as to relieve pain from cancer. He said he smoked marijuana years ago and it was his gateway to other drugs.

“It’s abused” on the reserve, he said as he stood outside the center, seeing a marijuana grow op across the street. “I have expressed it many times in (tribal council) meetings.”

The city councilor said he was also concerned about the shootings and disappearances.

“It’s not Mexico, but it’s happening here,” he said. “It is alarming our seniors, 80 and over, who do not feel safe here.”

In the United States, customers who buy marijuana over the internet are unlikely to realize the work and sex trafficking that they could support financially, police said.

“Some of the marijuana moved across the country has arisen from slave labor,” said Sena, who also heads the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. “Often people brought into work are abused” on illegal marijuana farms. .

In Mendocino County, someone dropped off a scared 16-year-old girl from Mexico who didn’t know where she was and didn’t speak English at an illegal cannabis farm in Covelo a few months ago. The sheriff is concerned that she was brought in to have sex with the workers, but her deputies found her first.

Other farm workers, including young men used for sex and trafficking in labor, were not rescued in time. Some were forced to live in poverty without plumbing. Others have died and many are missing, the sheriff said.

“We have families who will never be able to find out what happened to their children,” Kendall said. “I’m not going to take it.”

Point Arena Lighthouse in western Mendocino County overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Point Arena Lighthouse in western Mendocino County overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Harming national forest lands, wildlife

Armed illegal cultivators are also settling on federal lands in national forests.

Investigators have discovered that “intrusions are growing” in 72 national forests in 21 states, which include all of California’s 18 national forests, said Mourad Gabriel, regional wildlife ecologist for the US Forest Service based in the Emerald Triangle. .

On average, more than 2 million cannabis plants were eradicated on federal lands from 2007 to 2019 – of which more than a million were cultivated in California, Gabriel said.

He is concerned about the unknown impact of dangerous chemicals, including those used to kill rodents which are banned in the United States and have been used at some cultivation sites, most notably in the Mendocino National Forest.

“They are definitely being smuggled from Mexico,” he said.

Nyxo, a rescue dog, suffered an excruciating death in 2014 after being poisoned in northern California.  Its owner, scientist Mourad Gabriel, accuses illegal marijuana growers of trying to stop his research.
Nyxo, a rescue dog, suffered an excruciating death in 2014 after being poisoned in northern California. Its owner, scientist Mourad Gabriel, accuses illegal marijuana growers of trying to stop his research.
Courtesy of Mourad Gabriel

Gabriel is concerned about the contamination of contaminated soils and waterways that feed the Round Valley Indian Reserve in Covelo.

“They are certainly in danger if contamination is to occur,” he said.

The scientist said that in 2014, someone poisoned his beloved rescue dog Nyxo, who suffered an excruciating death. Gabriel thinks it was a scary tactic to stop his research.

Gabriel has helped link illegal crops to the poisoning or slaughter of spotted owls, fishermen, bears, deer and hawks.

Producers of illegal sites sometimes cut down trees and also leave piles of garbage and human waste near streams in forests.

“These are toxic waste sites,” said California Congressman Jim Wood, a Democrat whose district includes the Emerald Triangle.

“They damage water and wildlife, and that’s on a pretty big scale.”

In fiscal 2019, more than 353,000 marijuana plants were eradicated from national forests in California and across the country, and authorities confiscated $ 948 million worth of marijuana, the US spokesperson said. Forest Service, Jamie Hinrichs.

In recent years, authorities have discovered large shoots in the national forests of California, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Burns and Deaths from Illegal Cannabis

Burns and explosions are another threat with illegal cannabis.

A 56-year-old man illegally manufacturing a form of pure THC in September caused an explosion in Mendocino County that killed him and burned his two grandchildren.

Firefighters and three air ambulances rushed to the overnight trailer park in the county seat town of Ukiah.

“I found three burns people running around trying to find water,” screaming and crying, said Justin Buckingham, UKiah Valley Fire Authority battalion commander.

Justin Buckingham, Battalion Commander, Ukiah Valley Fire Authority.
Justin Buckingham, Battalion Commander, Ukiah Valley Fire Authority.

Investigators say the man made oil from butane honey, a golden liquid extracted from the stems, seeds and leaves of cannabis using the same highly flammable gas found in lighters in the grill.

The finished product, syrupy like honey, may contain almost pure THC. A kilogram of wax, formed when the extract solidifies, has a market value of up to $ 39,000, Sena said.

Addicts can heat, vaporize and inhale the wax, a trend called “dabbing,” which has sent patients to the emergency room with symptoms similar to pneumonia, case studies show, including one published in the National in July. Library of Medicine.

Doctors warn that long-term health effects are not known.

Most of these labs are illegal, police said. There are several steps to obtaining a permit, including having a ventilation system, avoiding heat sources and recycling waste.

The Ukiah explosion, which blew up the windows, caused 2nd and 3rd degree burns to the arms and legs of a 12-year-old boy, said Lt. Andy Phillips, of the Ukiah Police Department .

An 8-year-old girl suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns.

The grandfather died a few days later.

There have been several similar explosions in recent years, but none have been fatal, the lieutenant said.

What can be done?

Law veterans, including Sena and the Mendocino County Sheriff, are now in favor of allowing marijuana at the federal level as a means of crippling the illegal market.

The results of a new Gallup poll released in November show that 68% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana at the federal level, a record.

However, repeated attempts by US lawmakers to legalize it have failed. In November, Republican Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, allowing states to regulate drugs in the same way as alcohol.

In California, lawmakers in September announced $ 1.5 million to target the largest illegal producers in Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt counties. Emerald counties had previously received $ 1.5 million to help clean up toxic waste left at illegal growing sites, Wood said.

Kendall said federal prosecutions of criminal drug rings in his area were rare and he needed more help from officers.

San Francisco DEA officials declined to comment, but the FBI released a statement saying its officials are collaborating with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office “on ongoing investigations and sharing intelligence on criminal threats.”

Sena agreed Mendocino County needs more resources, but said undercover work is difficult as producers in the area recognize cars and faces that are new to the remote area.

He also said that the focus was more on the immediate threat of fentanyl, the No. 1 killer in the United States.

“Until that gets to the point where people can actually make the connection between the violence we see on the streets of America and the illicit flow of marijuana, we won’t be able to get the funding, the staff, the good guys. resources.”

Reporter Beth Warren: [email protected]; 502-582-7164; Twitter @BethWarrenCJ.

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