Marijuana found growing in local forest

VENTURA, Calif. Authorities have seized 550 pounds of marijuana in Ventura County this year, all from plants found growing in the /*Los Padres National Forest*/.

"This is being shipped to a market where the profit margins are better ... in Chicago, Detroit, Missouri. This is organized crime," said Dep. Chief Gary Pentis, Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Nineteen men, now in custody, were allegedly involved in growing, guarding, or distributing the crop for a /*Mexican drug cartel*/.

The /*Ventura County Sheriff's Department*/ says the cartels are armed and becoming more brazen, using weapons to intimidate their workers.

"Workers being supervised at the point of a gun means people are being held against their will. This is exploitation by a criminal enterprise, this is human trafficking," said Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks.

Authorities say the drug cartels are working in rugged terrain and they're not afraid to set up their operations 100 to 200 yards away from hiking and biking trails used by the public.

Cartel workers have not harmed forest visitors, but the grow sites are a fire danger. The recent La Brea Fire in Santa Barbara County that burned 89,000 acres may have been sparked by a propane stove used by a cartel worker. Narcotics detectives say the workers are also hurting the environment.

"They dam up our creeks, our streams, use the water, clear cut the land," said Pentis. "All their trash is left behind. The pesticides, a lot of the pesticides are illegal in California."

Ventura County investigators have cut down eight marijuana fields this year, valued at $381 million kept off the streets.

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