California's Cartel Cannabis Flourishes In National Parks: Weed Grown On Public Lands Accounts For One-Quarter Of US Black Market

Zinger Key Points
  • Co-founder of Cal's Marijuana Enforcement Team says nearly a quarter of the cannabis sold on the U.S. black market is grown on public lands.
  • Caution: Illegal growers and their armed guards may perceive hikers as threats to their operations, which can be worth millions of dollars.

There are a lot of reasons why you don't want to stumble upon an illegal cannabis grow operation in a national park, says John Nores, a retired lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The dangers include: poisonous fumes, getting shot, getting mauled by trained attack dogs or getting tangled in a complicated booby trap, all of which would definitely ruin your stroll in the woods.

The likelihood of this happening is more common than you'd think because there are thousands of illegal weed cultivation sites on the nation's public lands and parks growing millions of cannabis plants as we speak.

As a co-founder of CDFW's Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), Nores says, nearly a quarter of the cannabis sold on the U.S. black market is grown on public land, reports Will Brendza for GearJunkie.

The Risks Are Real

Nores told the outlet that he's had gun fights with cartel members, been exposed to illegal neurotoxic chemicals and has had to medevac seriously injured partners to safety. "You've got to realize you're dealing with very violent people. They will hurt you or kill you at the drop of a hat if they need to. We've seen it," he said. "It is mind-blowing how dangerous these groups are, both on public and private land."

Environmental Threats As Well

Devastating long-term environmental damage is rampant on these sites where illegal growers often divert water, pollute with banned pesticides and fertilizers, poach animals and even intimidate local communities.

Mourad Gabriel, of the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations branch, has visited over 500 such sites. On average, they house between 2,000 and 5,000 cannabis plants, though some are much larger, he told GearJunkie. Illegal grows on public lands have also been found in Michigan, Oklahoma, Maine and Oregon.

Experts note that identifying an illegal cannabis grow can be straightforward, even if the plants are not visible. Here's what to look for: messy setups, lots of water trucks, reservoirs with pipes and water lines, unmarked 55-gallon drums likely containing toxic chemicals. Gasoline tanks and large electricity generators are also giveaways.

Biggest Threat? People Guarding The Sites

According to Nores, those who cross paths with these groups could even be at risk of disappearing. Illegal growers and their armed guards may perceive hikers as threats to their operations, which can be worth millions of dollars.

If you encounter an illegal grow site, Nores advises, leave immediately and don't get caught taking photos.

"Don't be afraid to go in the woods. Knowledge is power. Have the tools to deal with the problem. You need to just be on the lookout and have some situational awareness." Nores said. "There's just thousands of hikers, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreational backpackers playing in public lands, and we're all part of the same Green Line."

Nores's book, "Hidden War" which sheds light on the issue, is now in its second printing.

See Brendza's full story, including numerous photos, HERE on GearJunkie.

Now read: House Approves GOP Spending Package To Include Medical Marijuana Access For Veterans

Photo courtesy of CALWILD

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