SANTA BARBARA — Santa Barbara County law enforcement agencies seized 80,000 marijuana plants in a six-day period last month, highlighting the prevalence of contraband agriculture in this coastal southern state region.
Although multiple fields were raided the last week of July, authorities have yet to make a single arrest. At a July 31 press conference, Sheriff’s Lt. Sonny LeGault described the difficulties of the current enforcement effort.
“Things are getting a lot more sophisticated,” he said. “They’re harvesting at different times and are becoming more efficient.”
LeGault attributed much of the explosive growth of local marijuana cultivation to the high levels of federal and state security enforcement at the U.S.-Mexican border since the attack on New York’s World Trade Center towers inSeptember 2001.
“Ironically,” he added, “it seems easier for them to smuggle people over the border to do the growing work than it is to smuggle the product itself.”
County narcotics detectives calculate the current value of a single mature marijuana plant at approximately $2,000, and LeGault estimates the street value of the recent seizures at more than $158 million
“And we’re not finished” he said.
The failure to make arrests was attributed to the remote and nearly inaccessible growing areas, along with sophisticated networks of escape routes throughout Santa Barbara’s rugged back-country. A number of the July 25 raids occurred just north of the celebrity-populated community of Montecito, accessed by hiking trails frequently used by weekend trekkers and the public throughout Romero Canyon and leading to the popular destination of Montecito Peak.
LeGault indicated that the conclusion of last month’s operations would not be the end of his department’s ongoing eradication effort, commenting that he expects his deputies will exceed the 100,000 mark for plant seizures in the coming month.