Illegal marijuana production has fallen drastically in recent years in Washington state, although law enforcement says public lands here remain a hotbed for cartel activity.
The number of plants seized in Washington state in 2014 was 57,000 — about 80 percent less than what was seized in 2010, according to a new report from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Over that same period, the amount of processed marijuana seized dropped from 3,126 pounds of product to 635 pounds, less than a quarter of what agencies had found five years ago.
The report does not break down seizures by individual counties. But total statewide seizures of plants are a fraction of what law enforcement was pulling out of Yakima County alone a decade ago. A series of raids on grow operations in Yakima County during a one-week period in 2009, for example, saw more than 80,000 marijuana plants with an estimated value of $85 million. Less than a month later, another $19 million worth of plants was taken from three sites north of Goldendale.
Washington State Patrol Lt. Chris Sweet, commander of the agency’s narcotics section, attributes the drop to increased air reconnaissance and joint cooperation between state, local and federal law enforcement.
“It moved them into other states that don’t necessarily have the response teams we do,” Sweet said.
California consistently leads the nation in illegal marijuana production, with more than 2.6 million plants seized and more than 2,400 people arrested in association with those grows in 2014. But Washington has remained in the top 10 in several statistical categories despite decreases in production.
That’s due in part to the large amount of publicly owned land managed by different agencies in the state, Sweet said. The climate, especially in Eastern Washington, is also very favorable for growing marijuana and the Mexican cartels paying for the operations know it, he said.
“The growing season is very good in our climate,” Sweet said.
Much of the activity in Eastern Washington is controlled by the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, according to a recent DEA and Department of Justice report on the threat of drug trafficking in the United States. A greater number of cartels are involved in trafficking in the port cities along Puget Sound, according to the report.
“Domestically produced marijuana is typically trafficked from the West Coast — particularly from states with robust ‘medical marijuana’ or ‘recreational’ marijuana laws — to states on the East Coast and in the Southeast,” the report states.