Sheriff's pot haul: 200,604 plants in 2012
Sheriff's deputies make 264 cannabis arrests
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department eradicated less than half the amount of marijuana plants this year than it did in 2010.
That’s because two years ago the sheriff’s department’s marijuana suppression efforts targeted mountain grow sites on public lands. Since then, those efforts have shifted toward raiding illegal pot grows on the Valley floor claiming medical necessity, and though the number of plants that were wiped out decreased, arrests and weapon seizure is up.
On Tuesday, Lt. Tom Sigley with the department’s narcotics division gave the Tulare County Board of Supervisors a summary of the last fiscal year’s statistics during the board’s regular meeting.
In 2012, the sheriff’s department eradicated 200,604 marijuana plants, compared to 184,395 plants in 2011, and 417,687 in 2010. Additionally, deputies seized 7,549 pounds of processed marijuana this year, compared to 6,700 pounds in 2011.
The sheriff’s department also made 264 arrests, compared to 166 in 2011, and seized 264 firearms, compared to 75 in 2011, and seized $63,741 in cash.
“We weren’t getting a lot of arrests out of the mountain grows,” Sigley said Friday during a phone interview. “Now that we’re doing more detail investigations, more people are in custody and more weapons are being seized.”
Sigley told supervisors Tuesday that 2012 was the first year the sheriff’s department partnered with the county’s district attorney’s office, code enforcement, and county counsel in a joint effort to curb cultivation and distribution of illegal marijuana.
In 2012, the county’s Resource Management Agency code enforcement branch began issuing warnings to operators and growers of medical marijuana sites in violation of the ordinance, requiring they cease operations.
According to Sigley, of the 252 sites that were issued notices of violation, 29 are outstanding and 89 percent have been abated. Sigley said that through RMA efforts and code compliance alone, approximately 26,000 marijuana plants were abated this year.
The sheriff’s department also partnered with federal prosecutors and participated in Operation Mercury, a six-county law enforcement initiative focusing on marijuana cultivation operations on agricultural land.
The operation netted 149,452 plants, 3.3 million pounds of processed marijuana, 35 firearms, and $64,266 in cash, mostly seized in Tulare County.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Ward told supervisors Tuesday that from the district attorney’s standpoint, 52 percent of the total marijuana-related cases are coming from the sheriff’s department alone.
He said the DA’s office has seen 639 marijuana cases, a roughly 16 percent increase in cases filed this year over marijuana cases filed in 2011.
“Our marijuana case load far eclipse violent crimes,” including robbery, three times the amount of auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon, gang crimes and even domestic violence cases, which so far amount to 556, Ward said.
He went on to say that the DA’s office has only one full-time prosecutor that addresses marijuana cases.
“It’s simply not enough. The cases are so voluminous that they’re spread out across the county. We’ve also had to use other prosecutors to do that but the funding that we get basically gives us a full-time prosecutor,” Ward said.
Supervisors commended the collaborative effort and those involved.
“We have to be persistent and I think we’ve done a great job, but we have to continue with this effort to get the message out there to every nook and cranny in Tulare County that marijuana grown illegally will not be tolerated,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.