Michael Montgomery/California WatchA drug agent stands in an illegal marijuana grow site during raids last summer.
Law enforcement agents in six northern counties are preparing for the largest series of marijuana raids ever conducted in this part of California.
Operation Full Court Press will unleash hundreds of local, state and federal agents into the Mendocino National Forest later this summer.
The raids will target illegal growers who have set up huge plantations deep in the mountains. Some of the grows number tens of thousands of plants.
Law enforcement agents contend that many of the illegal growers are Mexican nationals who are linked to large drug-trafficking groups. As evidence of a strong Mexico connection, prosecutors point to hundreds of Mexican nationals arrested in recent years at illegal outdoor pot grows.
But many of the suspects are simply laborers with little information about who’s behind the business.
This summer, agents are deploying new tactics to make more arrests and gather vital intelligence, like cell phone numbers and receipts.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman says the operation will help investigators target the organized criminal groups behind the illegal pot trade.
“The operation this year is going to have an impact on drug-trafficking organizations, marijuana supply that affects the rest of the nation,” he said.
But some longtime observers have their doubts.
“You are not going to catch Mr. Big in the pot patch with $100,000 in cash,” says Bruce Anderson, publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
“If history is any guide here, they’ll go out in force, large-scale raids, and the growers will be long gone by the time they get there. With cell phones and all the miracles of modern technology, you know they’ll be ready for them,” he said.
The latest installment in our series “The Republic of Cannabis” examines who’s behind the explosion in illegal pot growing on public lands in California. It aired on KQED’s "The California Report" and was produced in collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting. KQED’s "Forum" program also took up the issue.