Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says this grow was targeted because of the apparent deliberate effort to conceal the crop. "There are no medical marijuana cards in this field so they are not even using the ruse of medical marijuana to grow."
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner came down from Sacramento for this raid because he says it's an example of what the Federal Government is after. He emphasized that legitimate medical marijuana plots are not a target. "This is not about pursuing seriously ill persons of their legitimate care givers, we're pursuing profiteers here people who are growing for commercial purposes making large amounts of money."
Several people were detained at the site, but actual arrests in this case are pending. Wagner says the Federal government will attempt to seize the farm. But he says Operation Mercury is not as much about marijuana as those who are involved. "This has been identified as a rural safety problem as organized crime groups are starting to entrench themselves in the valley so we want to get after that activity before it becomes too entrenched."
We asked Wagner if legalization of marijuana would keep the criminal element out, and in answering he acknowledged another perhaps more serious drug problem. "I don't think legalization is the answer. The biggest source of deaths right now is from abuse of prescription drugs and those are legal. So making something legal doesn't make it safe."
Wagner said the government is stepping up efforts to deal with prescription drug abuse. While marijuana use doesn't kill, like prescription drug abuse, Sheriff Mims says marijuana growing operations can be deadly. "We still have not found the body of the 16 year old from Sanger who went into the marijuana grow and we believe that he was murdered. This is a very very violent drug trafficking group we are talking about."
Operation Mercury was a six county operation and Mims says efforts to deal with marijuana growing in the Central Valley will continue despite the end of the marijuana harvest season.