Open space being used to grow marijuana in Santa Clara County

By on Sun, November 23, 2008

In Santa Clara County, open space preserves are being used to grow marijuana, creating what could be a dangerous situation, reports the Mercury News.

In the hillsides high above Saratoga, three men guarded a garden of nearly 40,000 marijuana plants, representing more than $116 million in illegal sales. Tipped off by suspicious neighbors, a team of eradication experts hiked to a remote swath of land nestled between private property and El Sereno Open Space Preserve to seize the pot growing there and arrest the farmers.

During the operation, which took place on July 10, shots were exchanged, leaving one grower dead and scattering the two others into the brush. While law enforcement officials say it is safe for residents to continue hiking and enjoying the preserves, the two men remain at large and the incident has left some mountain residents uneasy. ...

In 2008, Santa Clara County law enforcement teams performed 11 raids over five days, eradicating 76,278 pot plants, arresting three suspects and confiscating one weapon, according to statistics provided by Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), a coalition of federal, county and local narcotics officers. About $11.6 billion in illegal marijuana plants were confiscated statewide, making California the No. 1 producer of commercially grown marijuana. The numbers do not reflect those marijuana gardens destroyed during the wildfires earlier this summer.

At first glance, the area does not appear conducive to growing a large marijuana garden. The hillsides are laden with steep ravines; there is no obvious water source. But far off the roadside, past poison oak plants, one notices how the trees eventually form a perfect canopy for camouflage.

The county sheriff is advising open space users to stay on trails to avoid growers, who are going to keep their crops off the beaten path.