CALIFORNIA: Farmers here in the Central Valley, home to one of the country’s richest agricultural regions, are grappling with a mounting problem: pot.
California’s legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 and a crackdown on illegal marijuana crops in the nearby Sierra Nevada in recent years have led to an expansion of pot farms in the region’s agricultural flatlands. This trend is alarming many farmers—both from the standpoint of seeing their region lose productive farmland as well as from an accompanying rise in violence tied to pot thefts.
“We’re sitting in a war zone,” said Dennis Simonian, whose family owns 80 acres on the outskirts of Fresno where they grow peaches, grapes and other produce.
Mr. Simonian, 70 years old, said he noticed a marijuana crop on a 50-acre plot next to his farm three years ago but was afraid to report it for fear of retaliation. His workers said they saw armed guards stationed there and apparent pot thieves escaping through his property.
The local sheriff’s office raided the pot farm in October 2012, just before Mr. Simonian began his annual hayrides for schoolchildren. “We were afraid: armed guards, taking kids through there,” he said. “Anything could happen.”
The farmers’ predicament comes as domestic marijuana production has overtaken imports from Mexico, which had been the dominant U.S. supplier in past decades, according to Bill Ruzzamenti, director of the federally funded California Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.