More than 8,000 marijuana plants were found and destroyed in Grant County this year.
It makes the county No. 1 in illegal marijuana plant production in the state, despite a sharp decrease in plants seized.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office, participating for the seventh year in the state Cannabis Eradication Response Team (CERT) program, seized $11 million, more than 6 tons, of marijuana prior to harvest, consumption or export of the drug, according to the sheriff’s office.
Last year, more than 35,000 plants were found and destroyed in the county, according to the sheriff’s office, ranking Grant County second in the state, behind Yakima County, in plant production.
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Overall, illegal marijuana production is down in the state, with more than 40,000 plants destroyed statewide this year, compared to more than 600,000 plants in 2009.
Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones said the results are a testament to the success of the CERT program.
“Grant County’s participation in the CERT program has made a huge statewide impact on illegal marijuana grows by disrupting the production of marijuana and capturing people responsible for the illegal activity,” he said. “Through our partnerships with other agencies, we have a greater capability to make our communities and recreation lands safer.”
CERT is an annual effort by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice and the State Patrol to remove marijuana grown illegally. The grow operations are commonly found to be organized by Mexican National drug cartels with the individual grow sites being operated and maintained by illegal immigrants brought to the country, sometimes against their will.
The CERT program focuses on removing marijuana from public lands as well as state and federal lands, Native American reservations, wildlife reserves, agricultural and wet lands.
Each year, hunters and hikers using public lands are confronted by marijuana grow tenders, leading to confrontations resulting in shootings and physical altercations. These incidents pose a safety hazard to citizens trying to enjoy outdoor recreation, Jones said.
The grow operations also cause damage to the environment including the removal of natural forest and plants, terracing of hillsides, soil and water contamination from chemicals and fertilizers, as well as the illegal killing of wildlife, according to the sheriff’s office.
CERT is supported by grant funding from the federal government. Detectives from the Grant County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team provided integral assistance to the program with investigative efforts and training, Jones said.