FRESNO, Calif. — Proposition 19, a November ballot initiative, would legalize recreational marijuana use for California residents over 21 and allow small residential cultivation — but also would put the state in conflict with federal law that says the drug is illegal.
"The (Obama) administration opposes legalization of any drugs, including marijuana," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an interview Thursday.
Kerlikowske was in Fresno, Calif., to announce the results of an ongoing crackdown on marijuana-growing operations known as Operation Trident. It is focused on pot farms on public lands in the foothills and mountain areas of Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties in California.
What is unclear is what the administration would do if California voters approve the initiative.
Kerlikowske, however, pointed to how state and local jurisdictions have dealt with the state’s legalization of medical marijuana, saying they are "doing a really good job of licensing, land use, those kind of regulations."
But in announcing the marijuana-growing crackdown and in comments by Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, it is clear where the federal government’s priorities are — squarely on large-scale marijuana operations.
On Thursday, authorities said the crackdown on marijuana-growing operations in the central San Joaquin Valley has resulted in nearly 100 arrests and the seizure of more than 430,000 pot plants.
Authorities estimated the confiscated marijuana plants had an estimated street value of more than $1.7 billion, though such valuation is debated. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims put the value at $4,000 per plant.
Operation Trident combined close to two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff’s departments of Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties.
In addition to the arrests — most involved Mexican nationals — authorities also said they found close to three dozen weapons, as well as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Most of the efforts have been concentrated in the foothills and mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The marijuana farms, authorities said, are run by Mexico-based drug cartels and are watched by armed individuals who destroy the environment to set up the grow sites.
Kerlikowske said he was hopeful that as Operation Trident continues and as California voters learn more about Proposition 19, "they won’t vote for it."
By John Ellis / The Fresno Bee
Friday, July 30, 2010