August 13, 2008

No Pot, Please. We're British.

Hempfest%20shirt.JPGIt's an unspoken and longstanding trade-off: local reporters get access to cops and prosecutors (i.e., tips and leads) in return for favorable news coverage of staged events (weapons seizures, drug raids). Example:

SUNNYSIDE – For the fifth time, a drug task force has raided a vineyard in the lower Yakima Valley, this time seizing more than 4,400 plants.

The latest raid was Saturday morning near Sunnyside. It brings the total to more than 77,000 marijuana plants seized in Yakima County this season. The owner of the vineyard is being sought. A day earlier agents seized more than 19,000 plants from a vineyard near Mabton and arrested three men.

A task force supervisor, State Patrol Sgt. Richard A. Beghtol, says pot growers are buying vineyards to hide their illegal crops. However, he says marijuana requires much more irrigation than grapes, so heavy water use is often a tipoff.

Drug agents say a mature marijuana plant can be worth about $1,000.

From this modest beginning, Sgt. Beghtol extrapolates (in a breathless followup report, three days later) that Mexican criminals are investing heavily in eastern Washington vineyards.

"They are able to amass a huge amount of money and using that money to go out and buy land to do their marijuana cultivation," Beghtol said. "It's their big moneymaker."

Thus does a routine drug bust in Yakima make the national Associated Press wire. Google News Alerts promptly picks up the words "marijuana" and "vineyards," and the next thing you know, Decanter, the British wine journal, gets wind of the story and plasters it on their website: "CRIMINALS TURN WINE INTO WEED."

A break, please. Longtime Yakima Valley grape grower David Minick (owner of Willow Crest Winery) points out that the vineyards are juice-growing concord grapes, not the wine-growing varieties. So Decanter readers have nothing to worry about.

As for marijuana advocates locally, this weekend's Hempfest is promoting "industrial hemp."

Posted by Ronald Holden at August 13, 2008 10:05 AM | TrackBack

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