Authorities warn rural Iowans to watch for illegal pot-growing operations

No conflicts reported in Iowa this year, but potential for violence is there, authorities say

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April 1, 2014 | 1:25 am

It’s harvest time for traditional farm operations and for outdoor marijuana growers in Iowa.

State Department of Public Safety officials on Wednesday asked farmers, hunters and rural residents to be on the lookout for illegal pot operations and to report them to law enforcement authorities, rather than attempting to take action on their own.

In recent weeks, agents with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, in partnership with local officers, have discovered and eradicated several large, outdoor marijuana growing operations in southwest and south-central Iowa, and in northwest Missouri. In light of those marijuana plant seizures, state authorities are advising rural land owners, farm workers, and hunters who may be traversing remote and seldom-visited areas in the coming month to be on alert.

“They’re actually trespassing on the property and you know you have the potential for a confrontation to take place, which is never good,” said Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Assistant Director Kevin Winker. “That’s where the danger lies – when you have people that aren’t supposed to be on a property doing something illegal and then you introduce them either to farmers who own the property or hunters, you have the opportunity for confrontation, and what we’re trying to do is just get the word out that these grows are occurring.”

While such activities aren’t a new occurrence in Iowa, he said there has been a proliferation in the past year or so. Given that each marijuana plant yields about a pound of product which sells for about $2,000, “you can do the math and see that it adds up and it can be quite profitable and that’s why they do it,” he added.

Winker advised anyone who encounters a clandestine marijuana growing location or items that appear suspicious to leave the area immediately to ensure personal safety, to avoid disturbing the area because items of evidence for law officers may be present, and to contact authorities once the finder is at a safe location.

There have been no reported violent encounters with marijuana growers in Iowa, Winker said, “but across the country there are other states that have encountered armed growers. Everything we’ve encountered, there have not been firearms present.”

Over the last three weeks, Winker said three large marijuana grow operations were detected and eradicated by Iowa law enforcement.

On Sept. 14, state and local law officers eradicated a 3,850-plant marijuana growing operation that had been abandoned in Taylor County. Also on Sept. 25, law enforcement officials eradicated a 571-plant marijuana growing operation in rural Decatur County and a separate 1,124-plant marijuana grow in rural Worth County in Missouri.

Common trademarks of those growing operations included the use of private land owned by individuals unaware of the illegal activity, with plots of up to an acre located in dense timber areas, where marijuana growers can live full or part time at the grow site in small, make-shift camps, he said. Grow operators will abandon the site for several weeks if they suspect the operation has been discovered.

“They’re going into the timber area and they’re clearing out trees in the center of a dense timber area,” said Winker. “The concern that we have is we know there are a lot of hunters that are now going out into the fields and into the timber and, if these growers are still in the plots, we just want to make sure that everybody stays safe.”

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