I-Team: Police Issue Marijuana Warning for Mt. Charleston

LAS VEGAS -- Metro Police are warning people who live or spend time on Mount Charleston to watch out for marijuana growing operations and the dangerous people who might be trying to protect their illegal groves.

Large groves with thousands of pot plants were busted on Mount Charleston last year. The I-Team hiked up the mountainside for a close look at the marijuana operations and what they found was a surprise. In 2010, there were no mountain marijuana operations spotted, but by 2011, there were seven grow operations.

SLIDESHOW: Mt. Charleston Marijuana Farm

On remote mountainsides, Metro Police, federal Drug Enforcement Agents and the U.S. Forest Service spent months doing surveillance on the ground and in the air before spotting hidden marijuana groves. Some of the pot plants reached six feet high. When agents approached the operation last September, two men ran off into the forest. The men were never caught but they left behind their cocaine, tents and weapons.

"Everything from a handgun to an assault rifle," said Bill Cassell, Metro Police Department.

Police are now warning the Mount Charleston community in advance of the 2012 marijuana growing season. They want residents to watch out for signs of pot farming.

"The transportation of pesticides and fertilizers in the areas where they would not normally be taken. The transportation of irrigation equipment and earth-moving equipment, shovels, picks, axes back into areas where people normally don't do gardening and farming," said Cassell.

The U.S. Forest Service says the illegal pesticides pose dangers to Mount Charleston's drinking water.

"The pesticides and the fertilizers are a very big concern because they do leak into the groundwater and they get carried away with the rain and that's going to go into our streams," said Judy Suing, U.S. Forest Service.

Police are concerned that if a hiker unknowingly strays into a marijuana farm, the men guarding it may decide to stand their ground.

"They would defend their operation, if challenged. We don't want somebody stumbling into one of these and not knowing what they're into and getting themselves hurt," Cassell said.

More than 50,000 plants were destroyed by police in the Mount Charleston area, last year. With the potential profit the illegal plants bring on the streets, there's little doubt growers will be back.

Metro Police are inviting mountain residents to attend a meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Mount Charleston resort. They'll show more of the clues they've gathered in their long investigation into those pot farms.


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