Tulare County's Marijuana Eradication Gets National Help - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Tulare County's Marijuana Eradication Gets National Help

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By: Dani Carlson and Kyra Jenkins

 Operation LOCCUST has already confiscated hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants.

"The message here is get out, you're not welcome, don't come back, we will arrest you," John Walters told a group of local officials in Tulare county on Tuesday afternoon.  Walters is the country's "Drug Czar," a member of President Bush's cabinet.  "We're not going to allow this in our communities."

That goal is where "Operation L.O.C.C.U.S.T." comes in.

LOCCUST stands for Locating Organized Cannabis Cultivators Using Saturation Tactics, and is a 14-agency federal, state and county operation aimed at eradicating marijuana gardens in the national parks in Tulare County.

"We're not giving up one inch of our county to marijuana as long as I'm sheriff," said Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman.

According to local officials in one week LOCCUST confiscated about 340,000 marijuana plants, worth about one point four billion dollars.  The operation involves about 230 officers from all the different agencies on the ground.  They made 36 arrests, and confiscated 27 weapons so far.

"This is an expensive and far flung operation," said Walters. "The reason we are spending it is because if we don't, it will be even more expensive and more damaging to the communities here and throughout the United States."

Officials acknowledge LOCCUST isn't the end of the problem but definitely a good start.

"I'm not here to say we've solved the marijuana problem, frankly that's probably impossible," said U.S. Attorney, for the eastern district of California, McGregor Scott. "But we've had a dramatic impact on marijuana and how much will be cultivated and brought out to the streets of the county state and country."

Scott said any grower arrested will face federal prosecution, and if they are caught with 1000 or more plants they will face a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

Officials said they have gotten rid of much of the illegal infrastructure of the gardens which will make it harder to start growing marijuana again next year.

Operation LOCCUST has been operating up and down the state for the past four years.

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