By Sam Stanton
Warning that there is a new "green rush" of people flocking to California to exploit the market for marijuana, the top federal prosecutor in the Sacramento region promised a crackdown today on huge pot farms on agricultural land in the Central Valley.
Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said his office is not interested in prosecuting sick people using medical marijuana. But he warned that the "unregulated free for all" that has allowed marijuana growers and merchants to make fortunes must come to an end, and he said in the coming months a new focus will be made on pot farms in the valley.
"There's been a proliferation of these large commercial grows on farmland, especially in the southern part of the valley from Stanislaus County down to Kern County," Wagner said at an appearance before the Sacramento Press Club. "And these grows are often tens of thousands of marijuana plants.
"They're often guarded by armed men and they are a hazard to people in those farming communities who live in or around them."
Wagner is one of four U.S. attorneys statewide who began a concerted effort last year to crack down on large-scale marijuana operations that they believe are in the business to make huge profits rather than to aid ill citizens who use marijuana for medical purposes.
The effort has come under fierce criticism from medical marijuana advocates, who believe their access to pot from dispensaries is being curtailed.
Most of the questions Wagner received today during his lunch speech came from marijuana advocates questioning how far the federal government plans to go in stopping marijuana operations.
But Wagner defended his office's actions, saying prosecutions have been focused on large-scale profiteers rather than individuals.
"As we have said from the beginning, our efforts have not been directed at sick people whom are using marijuana as part of a medical treatment plan or those who are genuinely providing care to them," he said.