Round Valley is home to the town of Covelo, which includes the Round Valley Indian Reservation. A marijuana growing operation in Mendocino County, part of Northern California’s famed “Emerald Triangle.” Photo Credit: Michael Clevenger
COVELO, Calif. — Mexican drug cartels are horning in on America’s burgeoning multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry, illegally growing large crops in the hills and valleys of Northern California.
The state legalized marijuana in 2016 for adult recreational use, yet the black market continues to thrive with thousands of illegal grows. Criminal syndicates, in turn, are cashing in across the U.S. on the “green gold rush.”
They’re undercutting prices of legalized products offered by permitted farmers who follow the rulegs and pay taxes.
And they’re exploiting workers, robbing and shooting adversaries, poisoning wildlife and poaching water in a state fighting widespread drought and devastating wildfires.
Lured by America’s push toward legalized cannabis, cartels have abandoned many decades-old marijuana farms in Mexico, moving their operations to Northern California where they can blend in seamlessly alongside legitimate grows, said Mike Sena, executive director of Northern California’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces.
“Why try to bring that bulk marijuana into the United States, when you can just grow it in the United States in remote locations like Mendocino County and then move it across the entire country?”
Major cartels, including the top powerhouses – Sinaloa and Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación or CJNG — also continue trafficking billions of dollars of heroin, meth and opioids into the U.S. and countries worldwide.
They’re flooding the streets with fentanyl, often pressed into pills to mimic prescription medicine, fueling skyrocketing overdoses that killed more than 100,000 people during the pandemic. The cartels and their drugs also have infiltrated Kentucky, where overdose deaths rose 49% in 2020, killing nearly 2,000 people.
Americans’ growing embrace of marijuana has given the cartels an avenue to expand their reach, employing the same vicious tactics they use to push out competitors in the illicit opioid trade.
John Haschak, a member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, said the county has issued about 1,100 permits for cannabis cultivation.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told The Courier Journal there are as many as 10,000 illegal grows in his jurisdiction, a two-hour drive north of San Francisco. He tries to target the worst 100, which is all his small force can handle in a year.
“I’m fighting a dragon with a needle,” Kendall said.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Beth Warren on Louisville Courier Journal
Published: December 17, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News