SACRAMENTO - Police raiding massive marijuana farms 300 miles apart are discovering that the same brands of fertilizer, pesticides and shovels are often used to grow tens of thousands of high-grade pot plants.
Government analysts are using such seemingly innocuous information, plugged into a shared database by drug agents in four western states, to search for patterns linking diverse operations across the West and into Mexico.
"There's definitely a quartermaster system in operation" as large-scale growers learn to take advantage of economies of scale to cut costs and maximize profits, said Jim Day, law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento.
U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott lobbied for federal money to set up the intelligence-sharing units in 2004 to go after the brains and financing behind increasingly sophisticated marijuana-growing operations. He had become frustrated that prosecutions in his Northern California district often stopped with poor Mexican immigrants illegally imported to guard the giant pot farms.
"They taught me in the Army, when you win the intelligence battle, you win the battle. That's what we're trying to do here with marijuana eradication," said Scott, who doubles as an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel. "The goal is to identify the lieutenants and the captains and the heads of these organizations."