State, feds both review Oregon marijuana case


by Asosciated Press

Posted on September 9, 2010 at 12:43 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. - A marijuana bust on national forest land in southern Oregon that produced 18 arrests and seized pot worth an estimated $120 million could end up in state and federal court.

A state prosecutor in Grants Pass said he is ready to pursue the case, and the U.S. attorney's office in Medford said it's also under review for possible federal charges.

The Josephine County deputy district attorney who handles drug cases, Rafael Caso, told the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford that the marijuana bust is one of the largest his office has handled.

Caso said the case is important but prosecuting workers at the production level is unlikely to stop any international drug-trafficking operation from trying to start over.

"People are -- I don't want to say expendable -- but people are a dime a dozen," he said.

Seizing the drugs is an important deterrent, Caso said.

"With any drug ring, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, if you take away the product, you take away their financial support," he said. "Taking the product is a great way to deter cartels."

The Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation team, also known as SOMMER, raided a massive marijuana-growing complex Aug. 24. The site sprawled over an estimated 5 acres on steep hills burned in the 2002 Biscuit fire.

Working over several days in late August, the eradication team removed more than 40,000 marijuana plants estimated to be worth as much as $120 million.

Police started rounding up suspects in the hills on Aug. 23 and continued to make arrests through Sept. 2, records show.

All 18 adults arrested have been charged with possession, delivery and manufacture of marijuana.

Court documents allege the suspects were involved in "commercial drug offenses," noting the large amount of marijuana involved and modifications made to the land to grow it. All but two of the named suspects also are held on suspicion of being in the country illegally.