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Roughly 125 miles east of San Francisco sits Calaveras County, a rural, conservative community that is being overrun by Mexican drug cartels, as is much of Northern California according to federal authorities. This is nothing new – for more than a decade cartels have been illegally growing marijuana in forests across America, but today California holds more than 90% of the US’s illegal pot farms. Cartel farms are also prevalent in Oregon, Utah, Washington, Nevada, and Arizona. The common thread between these states? All of them have some form of legal medical marijuana.
In light of Attorney General Session’s latest comments about marijuana use and growth in the country, legal pot farmers in Calaveras are worried that if action is brought against them the local economy will be crushed. They claim that the taxes coming from their legal recreational and medical marijuana are what makes local law enforcement able to fight the drug cartels so effectively. In Calaveras itself, there are 740 commercial marijuana growers that are approved by the state, and anywhere from 700 to 1,500 illegal farmers that grow on sites ranging from private property to government-owned lands.
Although California has never really been a stranger to the marijuana black market, recreational pot legalization has caused an uptick in illegal growth in the state. In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service culled 671,000 plants from national forests in the state. That figure doubled in 2016. Now, growers are flooding rural areas in Northern California in order to set up their illegal farms, with some counties even declaring “States of emergency” because of the rapid growth of these often violent black market grow sites.
One of the main claims that marijuana legalization advocates in California made was that legalized recreational marijuana would decimate the black market for the drug. However, the opposite seems to be happening.