Under the authority granted to it under Nevada Revised Statutes 480.460 and 480.470, the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Investigation Division has the authority and responsibility to conduct investigations involving the illegal production and manufacture of controlled substances such as Marijuana. As such, the DPS Investigation Division assists various local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies with the identification and eradication of illegally cultivated and harvested Marijuana plants on publically managed lands. While some of these illegal grows take place on federal lands managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management or the National Park Service, these agencies frequently request the DPS Investigation Division to assist them in these eradication efforts given the Investigation Division’s experience in Marijuana eradication, its statewide authority and jurisdiction, and the professional relationships and resources it has available to it through the narcotic task forces it maintains throughout the State of Nevada.
Throughout the United States, various initiatives to legalize or decriminalize Marijuana have made significant changes in the enforcement of laws surrounding the use, sales, cultivation, and even the taxation of this plant. While many of these changes in legislation deal with the use and cultivation of Marijuana for personal or medicinal use, they don’t address the threat that the large scale cultivation of Marijuana has upon public safety and publicly managed lands. As the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states on its website, “Marijuana is the only major drug of abuse grown within the U.S. borders.” As such, not only does the cultivation and harvest of Marijuana on public lands remain illegal, it has become an area in which Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become dominant in the production of illegal Marijuana for distribution in the United States.
As it relates to the illegal use of public lands for the large scale cultivation of Marijuana, this can take place for a number of reasons. First, many of the publicly managed lands within the United States, such as national parks and forests are located in remote and heavily vegetated areas that not only provide some level of protection against discovery and eradication, but they also provide excellent water sources and fertile soils with which to grow and cultivate large quantities of Marijuana. Second, Mexican drug trafficking organizations find it much easier and profitable to cultivate, and harvest Marijuana on public lands in the United States where they are closer to their intended drug markets. As such, Mexican drug traffickers not only increase their drug profits by having their Marijuana supply closer to their intended markets, but they don’t have to deal with the many issues of smuggling and transporting the drug across the U.S./ Mexican border. Around 2005, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began to pay particular attention to the increase in the number of the illegal Marijuana grows that were occurring on public lands. While indoor grows can provide Mexican drug trafficking organizations with a drug containing a high potency level of THC, Tetrahyrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in Marijuana, they can’t provide the same high level of production that the outdoor grows can, especially with the large scale production level closer to drug markets in the United States.
Finally, while the illegal use of public lands by criminal organizations remains a tremendous problem, one problem that often goes overlooked is the environmental impact to these outdoor areas. During the course of several Marijuana eradications which have taken place on publicly managed lands, detectives of the DPS Investigation Division have encountered many harmful items which the Marijuana growers have brought with them to the grow sites such as fertilizers, irrigation tubing, pesticides, chemicals, and rodent killer. Because the growers frequently utilize highly toxic pesticides and chemicals to ensure a larger Marijuana plant harvest and to keep animals, rodents, and insects away from the plants, detectives must assist in the removal of these harmful chemicals so that these chemicals and pesticides won’t continue to make their way into the ecosystem where they will contaminate the soil, water table, and surrounding plant and animal life.
The following demonstrates what has become typical of many of the illegal Marijuana grows which law enforcement continue to encounter on public lands in Nevada:
On Thursday, August 27, 2015, personnel from the DPS Investigation Division, the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Nevada National Guard, and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office conducted an operation in which they eradicated a large illicit marijuana grow located in the remote mountains of central Lincoln County, Nevada. Law enforcement personnel conducted the eradication during the early morning hours, and as a result of their efforts, recovered approximately 6,476 plants which they estimated to have a street value of $17 million. Based on evidence which personnel located and developed, it appeared that the individuals associated with a drug trafficking organization had operated this illegal grow site for several years, and that this illegal grow site was capable of producing large quantities of illegal Marijuana intended for sales and distribution.
In addition to the 6,476 illegal Marijuana plants which they seized, law enforcement personnel also recovered and removed nearly two miles of black irrigation piping along with various chemicals which the operators of this illicit grow had been using during the growing process. Because of this, law enforcement personnel had to rely upon the assistance of a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter from the Nevada National Guard in order to assist them with the removal of several hundreds of pounds of trash which the growers had left behind.