DRUG CARTEL: Growing Problem In Rural Iowa

Special Reports
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A growing problem in the state has shifted the focus of the Iowa Division of Narcotics.

Marijuana grow operations have been taking place for decades but a more sophisticated operation has landed right here in Iowa. It has forced the Iowa Division of Narcotics to take a pro-active approach and learn new skills to combat the problem.

“Within the last year or two we`ve seen what we`re calling a Mexican drug trafficking organization grow,” says Kevin Winker with the Division of Narcotics part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Not only is it growing, Winker says a drug cartel is settling in.

“People are building camps near the plants and they`re tending the plants on a daily basis and you actually have people living with the plants,” says Winker.

Most marijuana in Iowa is smuggled in from Mexico, but increasingly more and more is grown and harvested here.

“That`s a change from what we`ve seen in the past,” says Winker.

The tactic resulted in busts at 35 major marijuana grow operations since 2012. More than 9,000 plants with a street value of $35 million were seized.

They were all planted by growers taking advantage of Iowa’s rich soil, rural landscape, and acres of lightly traveled hunting ground.

The problem has out grown the Department of Public Safety. “We`re going to be providing training to the troopers and the agents that are here,” says Winker.

The Iowa State Patrol and Narcotics Agents are now working alongside the Iowa National Guard. As local law enforcement learn of possible marijuana operations, the guard helps confirm it.

“They can go up in the aircraft to help identify grows,” says Winker.

When the active grow is located, the National Guard is able to do the heavy lifting by bringing in specialized equipment to shut it down.

“When we get ready to go in an eradicate these grows the Guard has offered their support with helicopters, with trucks, with offering sling loads to be able to get the marijuana out of where it`s at. It’s generally fairly rugged terrain and pretty wooded so it is a chore to get this stuff out once you seize it,” says Winker.

The results over the past 22 months show the cooperative effort is working. They also show the latest front in the fight against illegal drugs.

“We feel that it`s going to continue, but we want to discourage those who would otherwise want to come here and grow from coming here and doing so. We don`t want it to become an epidemic,” says Winker.

The Division of Narcotics Enforcement has a toll free hotline for people to call if they suspect a marijuana grow in their area, 1 800 532 0052. You can remain anonymous.

Watch Part II here.

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