Some questions about pot on public lands are NOT common.
After the raid but before the story aired on the radio, my dad called me up. "Are you going to call it Pomeroy?" he asked. That's out family name for marijuana - Sheriff Pomeroy in San Mateo, California, apparently spoke to a Hi-Y club meeting my then 15-year old dad went to, and passed around a lit joint so that the boys would recognize the smell. My college friends called it Darrell, after Darrell Green, the devoutly Christian former Redskins cornerback (who, to be fair, never endorsed the product). Another friend's family calls it "back medicine." Anyone with anything as good should tweet us at @PacificSwell or hit us up in the comments with their pet name.
But then again, some questions are common - and, for that matter, relevant. So - since they weren't the exact focus of my story, I'm answering the top three questions I've gotten from Angeleno and Facebook friends in the last few days.
1. Who is it? Is it Mexican cartels?
I really can't say with any certainty whether it's cartels growing in the Angeles National Forest. I'm not sure who can. The National Drug Intelligence Center points to cartels on public lands. So do local authorities. When pressed for evidence, they produce Mexicans. In the big Operation Full Court Press, in the forests of Mendocino, Mexican nationals were numerous among arrests. But connecting those Mexican nationals to the cartels has proven more difficult.
The story told about those Mexicans generally goes like this: picked up at a day-labor site not for a few hours of painting a lady's house, but as a recruit to tend a garden 7 days a week. What are the repercussions if they fail or get caught? Law enforcement paints them as likely very dire. Probably they are. The story's loop is rarely verified and closed in the public eye.
Generally, and certainly in my reporting so far, arresting and investigating agents don't produce the names of cartels, or link cartels to specific fields.
An interesting article in Slate last year does, however, connect the criminalization of marijuana to the criminalization of Mexicans. You can read it here.
2. Are these DEA agents who do these raids?
No. The National Park Service, the BLM, and the US Forest Service all have their own law enforcement agents within their organizations.
This takes an increasing toll on their budgets. The Forest Service, according to a Region 5 spokesman, spends upwards of 11.5% of its law enforcement budget solely on eradication and interdiction. When you consider: the several missions of the Forest Service/Department of Agriculture to begin with; the budget crisis nationally; the admission by drug interdiction task forces that they're only hitting 20% of the problem out there - probably - at best - it's easy to see how the well could soon run dry. If it hasn't already.
The Drug Enforcement Agency seems to focus on (in increasing order) demand reduction via anti-legalization education, cutting drug related crime and violence, and breaking foreign and domestic sources of supply. That last category seems like it would include pot farms, no? But the raids DEA has conducted in the LA area lately have been on cannabis dispensaries. Instead, DEA seems to focus on conspiracies, on distribution and networks at a higher level than in forests.
3. Are there really more of these farms every year or is that bunk?
Seems like more - and here, we have the eyewitness word not just of federal and state drug interdiction task forces, but also hikers, hunters, and other people who regularly use these spaces in California and in other states. So I'm a touch more comfortable with those diffuse, differently-motivated guesses.
Let us know what else you're interested in about the Pomeroy.