SANGER, Calif. -- State narcotics officers have pulled millions fewer pot plants from remote forests this year than in the past. The reason, they say, is that traffickers have come down out of the mountains to plant pot in plain sight in backyards and on prime farmland, where California's medical marijuana law makes them tougher to bust.
Historically, growers of large-scale illicit pot gardens relied on the cover and isolation of California's wilderness to protect their plants. Last year, the annual campaign to root out such grows netted more than 4.3 million plants worth billions This year, the number of plants seized dropped by almost half.
Anti-drug agents say traffickers have migrated to the Central Valley, one of the country's most fertile agricultural zones. From here, they say pot grown on tree-sized plants makes its way not just to storefront marijuana dispensaries but also to street dealers across the country.
In Fresno County alone, investigators typically expect to find 60 to 80 large growers in the mountains, said Lt. Richard Ko, head of marijuana eradication for the county sheriff's office. In 2011, they found nine, he said. Meanwhile, the number of large pot farms on the Valley floor rose from 37 to 121 countywide.
"We can't touch 'em, and it's everywhere," said Brent Wood, who commands the multi-agency Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team. -- AP