Not far from the waterfalls in California’s Yosemite National Park, Mexican drug gangs are commandeering U.S. public land to grow millions of marijuana plants and using smuggled immigrants to cultivate them, reports the Associated Press. Pot has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a new level: using armed guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots that in can contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.
One California official said Mexican traffickers have “supersized” the marijuana trade. AP interviews Press with law enforcement officials across the U.S. showed that Mexican gangs are largely responsible for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the last several years. Local, state and federal agents found about a million more pot plants each year between 2004 and 2008; authorities estimate 75 percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can be linked to Mexican gangs. In 2008 alone, says the Drug Enforcement Administration, police confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots. Growing marijuana in the U.S. saves traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling their product across the border and allows gangs to produce their crops closer to local markets.