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June 15th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

How does your garden grow?

Program Note: Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Randi Kaye kneels beside a marijuana plant on her visit to a 'marijuana garden' with a team of sheriff's deputies and officials who destroy the plants.

Randi Kaye kneels beside a marijuana plant on her visit to a 'marijuana garden' with a team of sheriff's deputies and officials who destroy the plants.

Randi Kaye | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

The helicopter waiting for us was bright blue and yellow. That was our ride into the Los Padres National Forest in California. We were about two hours north of Los Angeles. After the dirt and sand swirling around us settled down, we climbed aboard.

Our pilot flew during Vietnam so I wasn't too worried when he took us into the canyon of the forest and hovered there while our photographer shot video of the "marijuana garden" below us.

Hovering in a canyon in a chopper is not for the faint of heart. We came to do a story for AC360° on the "marijuana gardens" that exist on public land - like national parks and U.S. forests. About 80 percent of marijuana grown outdoors is grown in those areas.

We came to the right spot here. As we hovered we could see the plants below us as well as the irrigation system the growers illegally installed in the forest. The system diverts the rain water to these “gardens,” so the rest of the forest is deprived of water while the marijuana plants thrive.

Our pilot dropped us on a ridge. I was glad we didn't see where we were landing until after we climbed out of the chopper. We were with deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and they gave us green floppy hats to wear to help blend in among the trees so "they" wouldn't see us.

Who are "they?" I'm told “they” are Mexican immigrants who have been smuggled across the border. They’re the ones who are allegedly responsible for growing this stuff. They bring in the seeds, the fertilizer and everything else they need when they enter the U.S. It's all financed, according to law enforcement, by the drug cartels in Mexico.

It’s a basic exchange: immigrants rely on the cartels to get them across the border, and the immigrants re-pay their debt by tending the "marijuana gardens" for the cartels.

It’s an uphill battle for law enforcement, which doesn't have enough money or manpower to keep destroying the drug.

When we came upon the first plants I was floored. Never had I seen so much marijuana. The smell was overpowering. Overall, our group estimated we found about 7,000. We’re told the street value of that amount is about $3.5 million.

We watched as the officers from the sheriff's department and US Forest Service destroyed every single plant they came across. I ripped one out of the ground and it uprooted easily. They broke most of them in two.

All the while I kept wondering if the growers were watching us. Our guys were carrying rifles and handguns and they said during a raid like this the growers usually hide in a bunker stocked with food built under the forest floor for a day or so to make sure the coast is clear. That was very unsettling since we also were told the growers carry AK-47 rifles and military-style weapons to protect the pot plants.

After hiking about a mile deep into the forest (I've never seen or touched so much Poison Oak!)we found what our team calls the "hooch". It’s the camp where the growers live in the forest from spring until fall while they grow the marijuana. There was a tent and some canned food items. Also some bb's which apparently they use to kill rodents and small animals to eat while they are camped there.

The sheriff's deputies went through the camp to make sure there weren't any weapons or drugs and then destroyed it. Once the job was done and thousands of plants uprooted, we hiked our way back out of the forest. It was tougher going back uphill, trust me! It was a relief to be out safely. We stood on top of the same ridge where we were dropped, muddy and smelling of marijuana, waiting for our ride to arrive. A few minutes later the helicopter brought us out of the forest.

The "garden" was destroyed but even our team had to admit there's a good chance it will all be replanted again.

Be sure to check out Randi's video : Pot growing in parks

soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. jeff newman

    please end the unust prohibition on cannabis & hemp throughout the americas. we will green up in no time.

    June 16, 2009 at 6:02 am |
  2. Gio

    If i had a garden like that id be token up all day for the rest of my days.

    June 16, 2009 at 5:42 am |
  3. Dustin

    I think it's time to legalize weed, or at least hemp. Hemp has the most uses in the world. You can make almost everything from it.

    June 15, 2009 at 8:34 pm |
  4. Anne NH

    As with any mind-altering substance, the problem lies with how it is abused. As a counselor I can assure you it is possible to be addicted to it, experience long-term side effects, and use too much of it. And I have talked to people who've caused car accidents or other injuries to themselves or other people while high on pot, so it doesn't always "keep people mellow." It's a hallucinogen: calling it a "herb" is merely a justification to keep inhaling.

    As far as comparing it to alcohol: don't waste your time dragging that old arguement out. One thing anyone trained in the addictions field learns is that if alcohol had been invented within this past century, instead of more than five thousand years ago, it WOULD have met the same criteria for a controlled substance, same as cocaine or opiates. Legal drinking has merely been "grandfathered in" by society because of thousands of years of use, and not because it is "safer" than pot.

    June 15, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  5. Al

    Wouldn't it be great to live in a country where we have freedom to make our own choices about something as personal as whether or not to grow your own pot for personal consumption? Wouldn't it be even greater to be able to do so without fear of prosecution or risk of losing employment due to showing positive for THC on a urine test? What if we all just got along on this planet and everyone minded their own business? People wouldn't have to resort to growing POT on government lands if they could do it legally on private property. I am 55 years old and I haven't smoked POT in 27 years. Wouldn't it be great to finally have that choice... legally?!

    June 15, 2009 at 8:16 pm |
  6. gordon brown

    I think it is criminal that law enforcement officers have to put their lives on the line so someone can smoke a joint at a concert or in their home.

    June 15, 2009 at 8:01 pm |
  7. buddy

    legalize it? less work for the DEA, no more chopper rides, less money going to Mexico for there marijuana, more money for us here in the USA, less on the courts more room in the poky for real bad guys, Legalize it!!

    June 15, 2009 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Kim, Nebraska

    I wonder how authorities would measure and test for weed, for example, in a DUI. There are considerations, what level of THC has to be in their (breath? blood? swab?) to constitute "under the influence." Also, if marijuana *were* legalized, what about people who grow their own for personal use? We can make our own wine, and roll our own smokes, but how would that work for pot?

    June 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm |
  9. Roland Ocampo

    The government waste money on a drug that does less harm than alchohol and tobacco. we should legalize marijuana for the simple fact it will create more revenue for government to spend; one on schools and give raises to our teachers. Two save us from spending millions in combating the war on drugs and could save thousands of mexican lives, and lastly after a hard days work it would be nice to relax and laugh at anderson's grey hair flip and his weird laugh while watching the news.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm |
  10. kaiamaeve

    killing pot plants (with all that associated cost and danger) is not effective at actually stopping people from smoking pot. the commerce that goes on around this crop is incredible, inevitable and won't be stopped by any sort of force.

    maybe these gardens, which admittedly are probably not good for the national parklands' well-being if they're leaching resources from the native vegetation – would cause fewer problems (social, ecological & military... hello!) if they were legal and allowed to be located in a proper growing location.

    maybe you wouldn't also have smuggled immigrants eating rodents and living in camps, indebted to those who brought them here.

    i like the quote from President Obama (see first comment) very much. and i believe it is time to treat the root of that discontent, rather than the reefer-smoke manifestation of it.

    thanks for putting the topic out there though. sure this will spark (ha ha) a lively debate. 🙂

    June 15, 2009 at 7:30 pm |
  11. Positive Vibrations

    There still remains a negative stigma on marijuana use in the United States due to incindiary advertisements and the association of the plant with minorities. The coverage of this issue and the remarks you make today mark the beginning of the end of a new era. The Baby Boomers and their immediate predecessors have shaped the political and social enviroment we experience today, but the clock continues to tick. The next generation is maturing and awakening to the fact that it can design it's own world. Liberal politics, less religion and hopefully less government will dominate the next 50 years of American life. Marijuana will become a non-issue soon. In the mean time, be responsible.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  12. Genesis

    For those who choose to vote against your not looking at the pro -abition of weed and look how Budweiser turn out good for the economy as well stimulate are debts and provide ppl justice for the movement.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  13. Dominic Guru

    Legalize marijuana. Imagine how easy it would be to grow legalized marijuana in a California farm. Tax the plants, free the cops, bankrupt the drug dealers, empty the jails, and let those who enjoy getting high do their thing in peace, at home, alone or with friends! And Randi Kaye can tell us about it.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  14. Dr. Duck

    PUNISH THE PLANET EARTH......

    I see no reason, or true ability to prohibit the existence of something that is unique to our planet.

    Many many years ago it helped thriving communities, which manufactured all type of goods from the plant.

    They say it can even make Diesel Fuel....

    Not sure its -Eco-Ethical to make it illegal in the first place, or to eradicate it off the face of the earth.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  15. Dominic Guru

    Randi might have said that the street value of those 7,000 plants is $3.5million, only because with vigorous policing, the drug dealers can justify charging an exhorbitant price for a medicinal plant that costs anything to grow. The cost for growing and havesting these plants in a regular farm might be less than $1,000, if that much. If legalized, tax revenue from marijuana could be substantial, while giving no revenue to the drug dealers. It is not far fetched to say that the drug dealers and cartels strongly oppose legalization of marijuana.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:08 pm |
  16. Luke

    The war on marijuana is a war on dissent. It has been ever since Nixon instituted it to oppress the anti-war movement in the 60's. This country has been fighting a war on it's own citizens for 40 years now. It is time for the U.S. to welcome the 2/5ths of it's population that smokes marijuana back into open society.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  17. Sandra Robertson, GA

    @Cindy

    Bob Marley died from the spread of malignant melanoma which was initially found in his great toe, and was thought to be caused by an old untreated football injury. Let's try and keep it honest Cindy.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Matt Linden california

    Legalizes the use of marijuana! I have used MJ for 25 years with no
    ill-effects.
    I find the people who are aginst it are realy misinformed,and most aginst it like to get drunk on achohol.
    Tax and regulate marijuana,take the cartels out put some taxes in.
    Not to mention all the jobs the marijuana industry would bring to this depressed economy.

    June 15, 2009 at 6:51 pm |
  19. T

    Legalize It!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm |
  20. CRUZ

    like it's gonna make a diff. they prob. have 5 or 10 growing areas all going at once (LOL.) WHY do they kill the plants? they could use these plants to sell to patients with marihuana cards in calif., so let them grow it and then take it from them to bring revenue to the brokest state in the country.
    also, how long has the WAR ON DRUGS been going on? has anyone seen a decline of pot? the U.S is just wasting the peoples money to keep the drug enforcement emplyed!

    I would like to see statistics of crimes comitted by marihuana users, i think we would all be very surprised!!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  21. michael

    And now that so many California parks need to be closed for budgetary reasons – it's going to get better for illegal growers.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  22. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    The marijuana plant is attractive! States could save money and eliminate some danger if they legalize drugs and stop fighting the war. Many people would live who would be killed otherwise. Randi, it seems dangerous for you to be right there where cartel operatives could be hiding. The sheriffs had weapons and gear to protect them. Can a person get high from being in the marijuana garden?

    June 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  23. Ferras

    also, make the drinking age 16

    June 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  24. Ferras

    Hey government people. go to the freaking senate and pass a bill that states that marijuana is fully legal.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  25. Kim

    It's about time the government becomes wiser and legalizes Marijuana.
    Instead of spending hundreds od millions of our hard earned money on the war against Marijuana, they could receive hundreds of millions in revenues. It would also stem the violence associated with the criminal element from Mexico that invades our country to grow it. Wake up Congress!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  26. mike d

    i say legalize ! tax it and watch the national debt go bye bye

    June 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  27. LibertyLady77

    I see that your first piece is narrow-minded and one-sided, although I can't say that I'm surprised. I hope that the whole week doesn't play out like this though. Truth be told, "they" and their "hooch" wouldn't be an issue if cannabis was made legal again and regulated just like alcohol and tobacco. After all, the latter two are well-known killers and everyone knows this.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  28. Chris

    Seriously What a huge Waste...Meanwhile there are children being abused murder and rape but yeah ......lets heli through the forest to kill some weeds and show some hippie gardners whos boss. I

    f we legalized we would obviously gain billions in tax revenue but think of some of our best blue chip stocks and how they would be affected:

    Frito Lay, Hershey, Mcdonalds,Sony,Blockbuster ETC.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm |
  29. LadyBugg1

    i say legalize the HERB....it would make America a BETTER place, maybe congress would chill out and learn to stop being so UPTIGHT!!!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm |
  30. Brent Sigman

    So in just what you said in the above article, by legalizing, we would be helping cut cost on fighting Illigal Immigrants, cutting off one of the two cash crops, for Drug Cartels and limiting funds used for all the cops used on a marijuana raid of this sort.

    Not to mention prison space saved, public defenders time and money saved, judges time punishing people for doing what our past 3 Presidents have admitted to using in one way or another. I think it is time we make money off this herb like we do Alcohol and Cig's.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  31. Rebecca, Louisville, KY

    In Kentucky, many of the growers using public lands do so because they own actual farms. When you grow it on private land the government can seize it and not only does the revenue from pot disappear, but also anything else that's grown–tobacco, for instance. Per capita, Kentucky has one of the highest numbers of farms in the country, mostly small acreages. You really think these people would risk the rest of their livelihood–if they're growing marijuana–by growing it on their own farms?

    June 15, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  32. MIke

    Pot is illegal yet you cannot overdose on it and does not leave you impaired for hours like alcohol. Yet we advertise alcohol which is associated with lots of crime and violence. Let the people smoke pot if they want. Let them grow it if they want. Distribute it thru state regulated stores or like how liquor is regulated.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  33. Deborah in Blue Springs MO

    I wonder how upset Randi's escorts would be if marijuana were legalized, saving them the time, frustration, futility, and risk of death/poison oak.

    Then, those brave soldiers could concentrate on eradicating people who rape children, beat wives, torture animals, murder gays or abortion doctors...

    It's not like they'd be out of a job....

    Think about it, America!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  34. John

    Just like in Vietnam, the cops destroy the "hooch" and tear up the plants, but the growers will be right back in there tomorrow starting over again. Just like in Vietnam, this is a failure of policy that is bankrupting the country. Legalize it!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm |
  35. BJ Thompson

    hey Big Brother look you take are tax doller's to combat marijuana on the drug war when you can maked money off of marijuan what in the hell is up whit all of you then some of the money can go in to the durg war to combat real durg's like METH !!!!!!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm |
  36. Cindy

    How is legalizing marijuana going to help us? Do the cartels that are growing it here pay taxes!? And if it were made legal these same cartels would undercut the price that the government set on the drug. So having it legal would still not help us at all with the drug problem. They would still be growing and selling it here.

    As far as bringing in money from taxing it....what good would that money do when it will have to be spent on drug rehab for millions of people hooked on drugs because marijuana was made legal? Not to mention more accidents, heart attacks, cancer..yes cancer..Bob Marley died from it because of his smoking of marijuana...are these things going to just go away like magic because it was made legal? NOPE!!

    Cindy..Ga.

    June 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  37. Jeff

    Do YOU smoke marijuana?

    June 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  38. Fed Up

    Our government wastes more money fighting pot than they do fighting illegal immigration. Crazy, pot can bring in tons of revenue, while illegals bring tons of expense. Go figure!

    June 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm |
  39. Jaime

    It's just amazing that we don't legalize it already and control it like the government does with alcohol. This is an amazing cash crop that is virtually harmless. If we legalize it, and tax this as a normal business this will really hurt the mexican mafia's pockets. Why we allow them to take advantage of this crop to grow there mafia just does not make sense. LEGALIZE IT ALREADY!

    June 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  40. Fred R

    we could pay for health care reform with just taxes on pot sales alone!

    June 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm |
  41. joe

    i wonder how much it cost to fill up the chopper and pay the dea.

    June 15, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  42. sam

    Isn't there something that can be sprayed that doesn't harm the forest but makes smoking it taste bad? It's easier to spray than walk and risk being shot at.

    June 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  43. Benchewan

    Not sure where to leave my questions for Randi and Anderson.

    1. Is there a valid source that can give exact numbers in the USA where there has been a death related to marijuana use and it's use only?

    I ask that because typically the reports have marijuana listed with other drugs and drinking. I have NOT seen a valid report showing that a HUMAN took Marijuana (Alone) and then went out and died from it, or caused someone else's death from it.

    2. After all the reports are said and done isn't Marijuana the only illegal drug that was and have been growing naturally?

    3. If anything isn't this drug only the blame for the possible cause of weight gain? Which is unfortunate but not it is no worse than fast food creating the cause of weight gain in USA?

    June 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  44. Todd Moser

    Growing on federal land is of course wrong, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. That being said we wouldn't be in this position if not for the War on Cannabis. Its easier for the Mexican cartels to send someone to the woods for four months than try and smuggle it over the border, and the ecologic harm caused by these operations are a determent to our parks.
    If it were decriminalized/legalized/whatever then the profit would evaporate, eliminate the black market, and with a huge tax provide much needed money for the country for schools, roads, drug education, etc.

    June 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  45. Brandon

    Wow..this sounds like something going on in the jungle in peru..2 hours north of LA huh...that would make a fun trip!

    June 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  46. Sean

    Money well spent! What a Frickin WASTE! Legalize!

    June 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  47. David

    What effect do you hope to gain from this expose?

    June 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  48. lifey

    That is amazing. I didn't know that something like this went on in California. Thanks for the info!

    June 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  49. FLP

    The Government is missing a golden opportunity for more tax revenue. They can tax it as high as cigarettes and budget crisis will be solved.

    June 15, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  50. Dr. John (Brooklyn)

    I had discovered that it didn't make any difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate's sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you'd met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had dropped out of school and now spent most of their time looking for an excuse to brawl. ... You might just be bored, or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection."
    What stoner wrote that? President Barack Obama, recipient of the most votes of any American presidential candidate in history.

    June 15, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
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