Plants prove hearty; surpassing yields of state's other crops.
By Deborah Frazier
Rocky Mountain News
Monday October 7, 2002
Colorado's Marijuana crop isn't
suffering in the drought as much as
corn, wheat and other legal crops,
law enforcement officials say.
"Marijuana is a very drought-tolerant plant.
It's a weed, and they grow anywhere," said Bill Weinman,
supervisory special agent with the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Agency in Denver.
Last year, agents found about
40,000 cultivated plants during an
annual federal and county search.
Halfway through this year's search,
the haul is about average,
including a 10,300 - plant bust near Gateway,
southwest of Grand Junction.
Weinman said the marijuana harvest
runs through October and
could top last year's yield -
unlike drought-stricken legal crops.
Wheat and corn were off by at
least a third this year, said Bob McLavey
of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
"I've been with the department for 15 years
and it's the worst year we've experienced," McLavey said.
"We lost $120 million in wheat alone
because of the drought."
Finding the marijuana crop is the hardest part,
but lawmen have been lucky this year.
Some fishermen stumbled on plants -
and three men, including one with a gun --
near Gateway in July, Weisman said.
The fishermen fled, shots were fired in their direction
and authorities were notified.
The crop was valued at more than $20 million.
(No wonder they were being shot at.)
"They had an irrigation system that worked well,"
said David Moore of the Bureau of Land Management.
There have been no arrests
because the elaborate campsite was abandoned.
Besides the Gateway bust, county and federal officials
have found more than 300 plants across western Colorado,
all served by handmade irrigation systems
that pull water from springs and streams."
We'll find some more in hunting season.
Hunters stumble on it when they're out there,"
said Glen Pickett of the U.S. Forest Service.
"Anytime we find someone has planted more than a couple of plants,
it's more than personal use," Pickett said.
"And anytime we find who planted it, we prosecute."
Nearly every year, the majority of the marijuana crop turns
in eastern Colorado, planted among the carefully watered corn.
Sunflowers and other irrigated crops.
The growing season is longer, and cornfields host few visitors.
And there's always lots of ditch weed - uncultivated marijuana.
In 2001, the DEA reported finding 134,000 ditch-weed plants,
mostly with low drug content. The figure is 23,000 so far this year.