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Drug agents warn Utahns of backcountry marijuana grows


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UTAH COUNTY -- Drug agents are warning Utahns to be careful while in the backcountry this spring and summer. More large-scale marijuana grows are believed to be hidden in the state, and a new website aims to help people know what to look for and how to report it.

How to Recognize an Illegal Marijuana Garden
  1. Marijuana plants uniform in height and size, spaced evenly
  2. Camp area with fertilizer
  3. Harvested, drying Marijuana buds hanging upside down
  4. Kitchen area with propane tank & stove
  5. Potting soil and fertilizer bags
  6. Gas powered water pump
  7. Painted pipe valve leading from a water source to the garden
  8. Rolls of water pipe
-Iron /Garfield County Task Force

Last year, authorities seized approximately 80,000 marijuana plants throughout Utah. Drug agents admit they have to rely on tips, because drug cartels grow the pot in remote locations that typically only hikers or hunters would ever stumble upon.

"We do rely heavily on the public because there is a lot of ground to cover out there," said Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson Sue Thomas. "They are very remote areas and they usually require that you hike in."

Nowhere are the marijuana grows more concentrated in the state than in Southern Utah. That's partly because of the warmer temperatures, which lend to a better growing season and a sparse population.

The Iron and Garfield County Drug Task force has created the website IllegalUtahMarijuanaGardens.com to help outdoor enthusiasts recognize illegal marijuana grows, as well as share information on safety.

The website points out that you should leave as soon as you realize what you are in the middle of.

2009 Marijuana plants eradicated from Utah Public Lands

Total Plants83,880
Public Lands83,864
Arrests10
Iron /Garfield County Task Force

"They have to exercise caution because these marijuana grow sites are often protected by guards," Thomas said. "They are using gang members to guard these site, or even the growers themselves will set up camp and live there. So you have to be very cautious if you encounter one."

The website encourages you to look for landmarks, or, if you carry a GPS unit, to mark the spot on your device as you leave. You can then call a tip line or submit the information online.

The DEA believes that more Mexican drug cartels are coming to Utah to grow marijuana. They cite increased pressure from police and rival growers in other states.

By May of last year, several grow sites were raided, so it's possible many of these grow areas are already underway.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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