Nipped in the bud
by Phil Hayworth
Sep 15, 2006 | 377 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s office Wednesday busted the largest marijuana-growing operation in the county so far this year, chopping down in one day nearly 2,000 plants worth an estimated $1 million.

The plants were being grown on a 2-acre field where bell peppers once grew just a mile from the sheriff’s headquarters on the 9000 block of Wolfe Road in French Camp.

“I’d say the plants were a couple of weeks away from being harvested. They were beginning to bud,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Les Garcia.

The plants were about three months old and more than 5 feet tall, but were tied down and hidden in brush in the overgrown field. Garcia said narcotics investigators spotted the plants while doing aerial surveillance earlier in the week with the assistance of the National Guard.

Authorities harvested the plants instead of waiting for the growers to return because they didn’t have the manpower to perform a stakeout. Police are still looking for the owner of the field.

Garcia said tying plants down is one of the innovations that growers have employed to avoid detection.

“As the fight against marijuana continues, the growers are finding more sophisticated ways to grow,” Garcia said.

For example, pot growing has gone indoors, with growers renting a house or multiple houses in nice neighborhoods. They fit the houses with sun lamps, complex ventilation systems that filter the strong marijuana smell and timed drip irrigation. Under those conditions, the plants grow themselves and dealers have only to harvest, bag it and enjoy the profits.

Pot operations were found in two homes in Stockton on Wednesday, and last week, police discovered a large house-based operation in Elk Grove.

More than 1.1 million plants were seized so far in California this year with an estimated street value of $4.5 million, according to the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Web site.

• To contact reporter Phil Hayworth, call 830-4221 or e-mail phayworth@tracypress.com.

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