Paramilitary Marijuana Operations Expand

4 min read

The number of federal agencies involved in eradication efforts has been steadily increasing. By 1992 the DCESP was coordinating activities by U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol.(103) The use of the National Guard deserves special attention.

There has been a consistent escalation in federal efforts to eradicate marijuana. In 1979 the DEA helped with eradication efforts in California and Hawaii. In 1981 the program was expanded to include Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Kentucky. In 1982 the program was expanded to include 25 states. In 1983 they had 40 states, by 1984 – 48 states, and finally 50 state participation in 1985. This program growth was good for the DEA payroll. “The total number of DEA employees dedicated to the program has increased in proportion to the number of states participating in the program.”(104)

The program grew in other ways, as more and more government agencies became involved. This aspect of the program became particularly acute after forfeiture provisions were passed in 1985, providing an incentive to grow on public rather than private lands for those growers who wished to remain outdoor cultivators.

The National Guard was involved in marijuana eradication efforts as early as 1982, providing helicopter support in Hawaii and Arkansas. (105) It was becoming clear during 1983, as the scope of domestic cultivation was becoming fully appreciated, that the National Guard provided interesting opportunities for further escalation of eradication efforts.

“The National Guard Bureau has recognized the significant contribution they can provide to the domestic eradication effort in the areas of intelligence production and sharing. Additionally, under state activation, the insertion of law enforcement personnel into raid sites and the extraction of personnel and drugs using helicopters can be of critical importance to the success of the campaign. During 1983 definitive guidance was provided to all Guard units clarifying the terms and conditions under which they can properly support the eradication campaign. This resulted in a number of states executing letters of agreement for intelligence hearing. Additionally, the Guard units in Hawaii and California directly supported the program through the commitment of helicopter and other resources.”(106)

In 1984 attempts to use herbicides within the United States to eradicate were prevented by legal challenges brought by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The DEA maintained that they did not have to file an Environmental Impact Statement before using herbicides for marijuana eradication, NORML and the courts believed otherwise. DEA was enjoined from using herbicides such as paraquat and glyphosate pending completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).(107) This left the DEA looking for other ways to compensate for the labor intensive aspects of eradication. The EIS was published in July, 1985 (DEA EIS-1), and limited spraying on two sites occurred in 1985 using the herbicide glyphosate.(108) The EIS process indicated that it would be difficult to use herbicides on a widespread basis in the U.S., and they have not been a major tool for the DEA since.

“The manpower required to accomplish the physical destruction of cannabis sightings has been, and continues to be, one of the primary contributing factors toward overall difficulty in eradication efforts. . .intelligence is a necessary component . . . it is also understood that a labor-intensive effort is required to minimize the availability of domestically grown cannabis.”(109)

Integrating the Guard into eradication activities continued throughout 1984.

“The National Guard Bureau continued its cooperative efforts with DEA in the cannabis eradication/suppression program in 1984 through the issuance of specific instructions and guidelines to state National Guard units stressing cooperation with law enforcement agencies and providing the methodology to facilitate the state units responses to requests for assistance in this program.”(110)

In 1985 the DEA enlisted Department of Agriculture field personnel, with representatives in over 3000 counties, to report cultivation “detected during their normal duties.”(111) This program was tested in 1984.(112) The use of the National Guard was becoming more direct. “Several state National Guard units under state activation status provided direct support to state law enforcement efforts in this program during 1985.”(113) Both programs continued throughout 1986.(114)

Military involvement continued to expand in 1988, with the DEA noting that “the 1989 eradication program will be enhanced through support provided from the Department of Defense.”(115)

In 1989 they acknowledged another desirable aspect of using the National Guard. “NG personnel are under the command of each state governor and are not restricted by the Posse Comitatus Act” which forbids the use of the military in domestic law enforcement.(116)

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1879, and forbids federal troops from entering private land or dwellings, and from detaining or searching civilians. In 1988 Congress passed a law authorizing Guardsmen to work under Title 32 of the United States Code in an “Active Duty for Special Work” status. The result is federally paid soldiers under state control. Guardsmen under this status receive combat pay, and can undertake searches of vehicles, buildings and enter private property without consent.(117)

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan told the 1991 National Guard Association convention that

“You represent us in uniform in ways the active forces cannot unless certain laws are changed. You are part of a Total Army dedicated to protecting our values and our way of life.”(118)

Colonel Richard R. Browning III, the chief of the drug demand section of the National Guard Bureau has described the Guards role this way.

“America is caught up in the most pervasive drug epidemic in history. An epidemic that transcends the health, economy, and general well-being of our nation. The rapid growth of this drug scourge has shown that military force must be used to change the attitudes and activities of Americans who are dealing and using drugs. The National Guard is America’s legally feasible attitude-change agent.”(119)

The National Guard is currently cleared for 16 counterdrug missions according to the their newspaper On Guard, including reconnaissance, ground radar support, cargo inspection, vehicle detection, marijuana eradication, drug lab detection, film processing, and weapons support, which includes everything from M16A2 automatic rifles and 9 mm semi-automatic Beretta pistols to Hawk missile radar and OV/ID infra-red detection equipment.(120)

Clearly, the Army views the Guard involvement in eradication and other anti-drug activities as a precursor to its own involvement. In an active Army publication titled Tomorrow’s Mission, Lt. Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, the Army Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, asserts that in the Army of the 90’s

“military forces are required to provide domestic nation assistance such as internal peacekeeping and anti-drug operations and support of civil authorities to maintain stability in a rapidly changing America.”(121)

Speaking at a 1991 conference of the Association of the United States Army, Stephen M. Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Defense spoke explicitly on the subject.

“We can look forward to the day when our Congress repeals the Posse Comitatus Act and allows the Army to lend its full strength toward making America drug-free.” (122)