13.8.05

War of the weed

Famed for the biggest trees in the world, Sequoia National Park is now No. 1 in another flora department: marijuana growing, with more land carved up by pot growers than any other park....
So far, park visitors and the growers rarely cross paths; the pot farms are in areas with little public appeal — remote slopes at lower, hotter elevations. However, officials report five encounters between gun-wielding growers and visitors on national forest lands in California this year....
The pot growers are no longer the stereotype of hapless hippies. They are part of sophisticated criminal organizations schooled on the Colombian cartels' economy of scale, says Ruzzamenti. "They do things big. Even if you lose a little here, you'll make it up in the long run. They've taken this lesson to another level," he says.
Most of the ringleaders, say investigators, are U.S. nationals based in Southern California with connections to cartel families in Michoacán, Mexico; field workers are well-armed Mexican laborers.
"We've found AR-15s, shotguns, rifles, knives strapped to poles, crude crossbows," says J.D. Swed, chief ranger at Sequoia....

From the Los Angeles Times

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