Illicit marijuana farmers are known to use public parks to grow their crop. But rarely are they daring enough to plant a pot garden on someone else’s private property.
An East Texas rancher, looking for grass to graze his cattle, recently discovered a $2 million cannabis farm growing on the land he recently acquired. He also chased off two men camping near the weed.
“Primarily, the most impressive thing of it was that it was a pretty elaborate growing operation,” said Chambers County, Texas, Sheriff Brian Hawthorne.
The rancher, who wasn’t named, called the sheriff’s department after discovering the pot growing in a remote part of the ranch. He had recently leased the land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it’s private property.
Sheriff’s deputies said they found 5,500 plants, a crop worth $2 million, plus the campsite abandoned by the growers. The men left behind two tents, food – eggs, tortillas, and canned goods – cooking supplies, toiletries, and clothes.
The farmers were using about two acres deep in a wooded part of the property. They set up an irrigation system and planted the crop where it would receive the best sunlight.
“There’s no doubt they understood the principles of what it was going to take to create a watering system [and] the environment that they needed to have so as to start the marijuana plants from a seedling,” Hawthorne said.
The garden was set in remote enough a location that it would be difficult to find, the sheriff said.
“It’s not an area that normally anyone would [use],” he said. “There’s no reason anyone would be back there other than the purpose of ranching or the purpose of hunting.”
Hawthorne said the operation was well established and was apparently started some time ago. Deputies hadn’t caught the men who fled the farm, but said they were probably part of a larger criminal group. The sheriff said deputies found evidence at the scene that could trace back to that group.
“They were answering to somebody,” Hawthorne said. “Some of the equipment that we’ve seized from the site of this marijuana growing operation we feel is going to lead us to additional criminal enterprise.”
Deputies seized the plants and handed them to state police, who will destroy them.
Almost half the marijuana seized by the government is found growing on public land, usually in large national or state parks. In 2012, almost 4 million plants were uprooted on public property across the country and destroyed.
But attempts to covertly grow cannabis on private property that belongs to someone else are relatively rare. For one thing, private land is less likely to have an ample natural water source, whereas large parks typically have streams that can be drained for irrigation.
For another, private owners are more likely to patrol their own land, even large parcels. In public parks, farmers can plant in remote areas that may go unpatrolled for years.