Military-Style Assault on Marijuana in Cali's "Emerald Triangle"

By Kenneth Garger and Walter Armstrong 07/27/11

The state's biggest-ever pot plant purge features 24-hour helicopters and SWAT teams beating up on the local cash crop.

Pot-spotting choppers make war in national forest. Photo via

A huge marijuana-eradication action is underway in Northwestern California's famed "Emerald Triangle." The military-style operation—a collaboration of hundreds of federal, state and local agencies, was launched on July 17 and is set to end on August 5. It's already resulted in the seizure of some 300,000 pot plants and 77 arrests. Ground Zero is the Mendocino National Forest, which includes the nation’s top three cannabis-cultivating counties: Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity. This time of year is peak growing season for pot and the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) wages war annually against the Golden State's multi-billion dollar crop, typically eradicating as much as 25%. 

But critics claim that the 30-year-old CAMP campaign has become an end in itself, making little dent in the volume, cost or availability of marijuana on the street. "CAMP is an enormous waste of money—I've even heard law enforcement refer to this as helicopter rides," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's fun for them, but spending this money on that doesn't do any good, and that's a shame when we're in such dire budgetary shape." And because marijuana is the region’s cash crop, keeping local economies afloat, not all local residents are exactly cheerleading the assault either, with its 24-hour helicopter and SWAT raids. "The laws are what they are," said CAMP spokesperson Michelle Gregory. "We're going to enforce the law." The Department of Justice, which will hold a local press conference on Friday, claims that the massive sweep is aimed at “large-scale, possibly gangland operations," and not at Proposition 215 medical marijuana grow sites.

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