Ohio Shooting Massacre Highlights Prevalence of Domestic Marijuana Grows
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The small Ohio town of Piketon is still reeling from the execution-style murders of eight members of the Rhoden family on April 22. An unknown shooter entered four different residences in the town—some within walking distance of each other—and shot the victims in the head while they slept. Two infants and a toddler were unharmed, there were no signs of forced entry, and there was no indication that any of the family’s dogs tried to attack the shooter, all of which imply that the killer was known to the Rhodens.
Shooting Massacre had Marijuana Connections
Aside from blood ties, another thing that links the murder sites is that marijuana grow operations were found at three of the four homes. Few details were publicly available about the grows, but but an official with knowledge of the operation told CNN, “This operation was not for personal use; it was for something much bigger than that. It was a very sophisticated operation.”
Officials have not made any connection between the marijuana and the Ohio shootings. However, in August 2012, Ohio State Attorney General Mike DeWine issued a press release saying law enforcement officers found “a major marijuana grow site in Pike County with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel.” At that time, investigators destroyed about 1,200 marijuana plants and found two abandoned campsites they believe belonged to Mexican nationals.
US National Parks: Growing More than Just Trees
Few Americans realize how prevalent large marijuana grow operations are in the United States. Many of the largest operations are run by individuals hired by Mexican drug cartels, and are located inside U.S. national parks and forests where they can be extremely difficult to find. Growers look for sites generally between 4,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation (where marijuana grows best) that have access to running water. Surrounding foliage that can be used for cover and concealment is also preferred. California and Washington are two expected top marijuana grow locations, but they have been discovered in Michigan, North Carolina, and Hawaii.
[Also by Sylvia Longmire: San Diego Drug Tunnel is Longest Ever Found]
The main benefit these domestic grow operations provide is the elimination of risk that comes with bringing marijuana across the borders from Mexico and Canada. It also reduces the amount of time that must pass between production, processing, and distribution.
Even with the advantage Mexican cartels have by growing marijuana inside U.S. borders, they are losing considerable market share to the 24 states (and Washington, DC) where medical marijuana is legal, as well as to the three states where recreational use of pot has been legalized. There is still a huge market for cheap Mexican dope, but cartel-controlled growers realize they have to compete more on price than on quality.
Mexican Cartel Related?
Based on the scant information currently available about the Ohio shooting massacre, it’s not likely their grow operations were cartel connected. Mexican crime organizations tend to recruit growers in Mexico then bring them into the U.S. to tend the grows. It isn’t common for them to collaborate with U.S. citizens in a populated area—even one as small as Piketon.
However, this doesn’t diminish the challenge to law enforcement of detecting these marijuana grows across the country, regardless of who controls them. Funding to National Guard units (the real experts in grow detection and eradication) and law enforcement agencies for helicopters and counter-drug personnel has been slashed across the board—as deep as 70 percent in Oregon, a top grow state. A small rural county like Pike is way off the national counter-drug radar, but clearly has a history of having a drug problem.
Hopefully as this abhorrent shooting massacre investigation continues, more light will be shed on the logistics of this particular marijuana grow operation, and provide hints to U.S. law enforcement about how such a tragedy—if linked to the grows—might be prevented in the future.
Read all of Sylvia Longmire’s IHS articles here.