TIJUANA, Mexico — Mexican soldiers will begin destroying the country’s largest ever marijuana plantation under the watchful eyes of state prosecutors, officials said Friday, as hundreds of troops descended on the site.
“We estimate that it will take at least eight days” for soldiers to destroy the 120 hectare (nearly 300 acre) pot farm, said Army General Alfonso Duarte.
From the air, the site had appeared to be nothing but an enormous black stain. But when soldiers visited the farm on the Baja California peninsula, they discovered the massive plantation under the black tarps.
The tarps are designed to protect the plants from the blazing hot sun in the Baja desert, and a casual observer could easily believe they were protecting tomatoes, which are widely grown in the region.
Duarte, the commander of the military region based in the far north-western border city of Tijuana, took reporters on a helicopter ride to the site, located near the center of the peninsula.
Some 250 soldiers were meanwhile deployed to the plantation for protection and to begin the destruction.
The plantation was built around the peninsula’s main north-south highway and includes a network of hoses that connect wells to a sophisticated drip irrigation system.
Duarte said he did not know which drug cartel owned the plantation, but emphasized it was the biggest pot plantation ever found in Mexico.
The record-busting Baja plantation is much larger than the 64 hectare (160 acre) pot farm discovered in Sinaloa state in 2007, and the 84 hectare (208 acre) farm discovered in Chihuahua state in 1984.
There is also housing for some 60 workers — when soldiers approached the site, as the employees were having a meal, they all fled. Six however were later captured at a military checkpoint.
The crop was ready for harvest, and Duarte estimated the plantation could produce 120 tons of cannabis, which he valued at nearly $160 million.
Baja California state borders the US state of California, where growing and selling marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legal since 1996.