Mexico marijuana growers learn new tricks from U.S.

Tue, Dec 14 2010

By Mica Rosenberg

AMATA, Mexico (Reuters) – Farmers growing marijuana in remote Mexican mountains are adopting techniques pioneered in the United States to produce more potent pot and boost profits from the cash crop that is fueling a deadly drug war.

In the fertile valleys of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico, soldiers this year found 60 acres of covered greenhouses equipped with sophisticated irrigation and fertilization systems growing seemingly endless rows of marijuana plants. In another part of Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, the army recently busted a marijuana lab with potted plants heated day and night by lamps, a change from traditional outdoor cultivation of the crop and a sign drug cartels are using more savvy production methods.

“This is new. They now have technology so the plant will grow faster; we think the techniques are coming from (the United States),” said a soldier commanding a battalion ripping up 5-foot (1.5-meter)-high marijuana plants growing along a river bank near the dusty town of Amata, Sinaloa.

While estimates vary, law enforcement officials on both sides of the border say Mexican drug gangs earn the bulk of their cash from cheap-to-produce marijuana, using revenues to sustain wars against rivals and the government that have killed more than 33,000 people across Mexico in the past four years.

Even as hundreds of troops fan out across Sinaloa ripping up marijuana fields by hand, cartels are one step ahead of the government’s efforts, helping to stifle President Felipe Calderon’s army-led battle against the cartels.

“It’s a cycle,” said another soldier in Amata as he stood by 20,000 pungent marijuana plants doused with diesel and set on fire in a billowing cloud of white smoke. “We come and destroy the fields and move onto another area and they come back and start preparing the land to plant again.”

The new greenhouses are harder for the army to detect with fly-overs since they resemble tomato plots common in Sinaloa.