Leonardo Villasenor-Cesar is going to spend the next 15 years in federal prison for growing marijuana. The 23-year-old from Michoacan, Mexico, was caught last summer tending a garden of more than 1,600 plants near Boom Creek in southwest Idaho's Boise National Forest. The judge who handed out the stiff sentence says it "reflects the nation's concern" over pot being grown on public land. You know, the concern that Villasenor-Cesar or other illicit farmers will eventually shoot a hunter who stumbles into their neck of the woods.
Villasenor-Cesar was carrying a loaded handgun when state and federal agents found his hideout in the mountains last August. He and another man were living in tents in an area that federal officials describe as "remote and mountainous." The men had dammed a nearby creek and used plastic tubing to provide irrigation for their crop. They subsisted on groceries that somebody dropped off at a highway a few miles away.
His partner escaped capture, and Villasenor-Cesar eventually pleaded guilty to drug-manufacturing and firearm-possession charges. In a statement issued by the Department of Justice, U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Lodge said the sentence reflects "the increasing concern that individuals who carry firearms in furtherance of growing marijuana on public lands create a danger for citizens who use public lands for lawful recreation."
Police were tipped off about the Idaho pot plantation from a hunter who stumbled upon the operation and escaped undetected. Just last week, police and game wardens in California warned that increased drug-cartel activity in national forests poses "an increasing threat" to public safety and is "the number-one destroyer of habitat in the United States."
There is no doubt that the pot problem is widespread. With tighter security on the U.S. border, Mexican cartels (like La Familia, the outfit from Villasenor-Cesar's native Michoacan) are moving to America's vast, fertile forests as a cost-cutting measure. In 2008, according to Drug Enforcement Administration statistics cited last year by the Associated Press, police across the country confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots.
What's questionable, however, is the logic that locking up a lowly illegal-immigrant pot farmer for the next decade and a half will have any impact whatsoever on the cartels' willingness to plant their oh-so-profitable crop in national forests.