DRUG CARTEL: Growing Problem In Rural Iowa

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A growing problem in the state has shifted the focus of the Iowa Division of Narcotics.

Marijuana grow operations have been taking place for decades but a more sophisticated operation has landed right here in Iowa. It has forced the Iowa Division of Narcotics to take a pro-active approach and learn new skills to combat the problem.

“Within the last year or two we`ve seen what we`re calling a Mexican drug trafficking organization grow,” says Kevin Winker with the Division of Narcotics part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Not only is it growing, Winker says a drug cartel is settling in.

“People are building camps near the plants and they`re tending the plants on a daily basis and you actually have people living with the plants,” says Winker.

Most marijuana in Iowa is smuggled in from Mexico, but increasingly more and more is grown and harvested here.

“That`s a change from what we`ve seen in the past,” says Winker.

The tactic resulted in busts at 35 major marijuana grow operations since 2012. More than 9,000 plants with a street value of $35 million were seized.

They were all planted by growers taking advantage of Iowa’s rich soil, rural landscape, and acres of lightly traveled hunting ground.

The problem has out grown the Department of Public Safety. “We`re going to be providing training to the troopers and the agents that are here,” says Winker.

The Iowa State Patrol and Narcotics Agents are now working alongside the Iowa National Guard. As local law enforcement learn of possible marijuana operations, the guard helps confirm it.

“They can go up in the aircraft to help identify grows,” says Winker.

When the active grow is located, the National Guard is able to do the heavy lifting by bringing in specialized equipment to shut it down.

“When we get ready to go in an eradicate these grows the Guard has offered their support with helicopters, with trucks, with offering sling loads to be able to get the marijuana out of where it`s at. It’s generally fairly rugged terrain and pretty wooded so it is a chore to get this stuff out once you seize it,” says Winker.

The results over the past 22 months show the cooperative effort is working. They also show the latest front in the fight against illegal drugs.

“We feel that it`s going to continue, but we want to discourage those who would otherwise want to come here and grow from coming here and doing so. We don`t want it to become an epidemic,” says Winker.

The Division of Narcotics Enforcement has a toll free hotline for people to call if they suspect a marijuana grow in their area, 1 800 532 0052. You can remain anonymous.

Watch Part II here.


  • William Denison

    DRUG CARTEL: Growing Problem In Rural Iowa? You want to know what a bigger proplem in Rural Iowa is? People living there who have no jobs or hope of ever having one. Cannabis sales are in the billions
    and would create many new jobs along with a much needed tax and a group of people feeling good about paying them. Honest hard working people. FYI 77% of people in Iowa favor useing cannabis. So why does the majority have no voice in the state of Iowa anymore?

  • MaryCannon Derisory Apodaca

    Make it legal. More jobs. More revenue. Better controlled. And WHAT is this with MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS??? It hasn’t been THAT long ago we Iowans were all up in arms over the fact that illegals from Mexico were here to improve their lives blah blah blah.. and NOW… a news story that seems to be pointing the wicked finger of criminal activity at the same people?

  • Feul

    You can not grow drugs. You can only grow plants that a criminal government forbids – all while our soldiers guard the Poppy plants in Afghanistan. That is also not growing drugs. This story is 100% propaganda. Do a little research. Inform your viewers of the truth rather than submit to a traitor system. There is not a single death on record attributed to cannabis use – in the history of death records. Meanwhile, alcohol and tobacco kill thousands of people every year. In the 80s, government created a study that showed brain damage in monkeys from smoking cannabis. However, that study was proven completely false when it was discovered that the monkeys were actually smothered with smoke using gas masks.

    You have shown yourselves as they propagators that you are. Same for your story with the new state prison-filler drug czar. More misinformation and propaganda to incarcerate citizens. {FACT: USA: Home to 5% of the world population and to 25% of the world’s prisoners. 1 in every 4 prisoners on this planet is behind one of our corporately-owned prisons.}

    You have failed as journalists and as Americans. Shame on you and the people that you help to imprison your fellow man.

    • William Denison

      Washington state now issues license to grow cannabis in your own home as of today. The tide is turning. The people of this state are going to have to be more vocal if they want changes in the law here. The first amendment is a wonderful thing.

  • revraygreen (@revraygreen)

    So the actual grow in Ringold county was abandoned? but part of three other grows where they have un-named individuals in custody? These oinkers can’t even keep the mexican marijuana from Iowa (watched it via-live stream in the land of the free)

  • Levi

    I just saw this story on television…and knifes to defend their crops? They need knifes to tend the plants!!! You all act like marijuana is a terrible thing. Funny how 68% of Americans want it legalized. I am one. It is less harmful than drinking. I will never watch a 13 newscast again. I am attending school for journalism and you have all failed. How dare you be completely biased towards the subject. Not too journalist sounding to me.

  • Clint

    Maybe if it was legal less kids would kill themselves after using synthetic marijuana errrr I mean chemical compounds…… bought at any shady gas station…….

  • Dar DeKoter

    I will challenge anyone to prove to me that marijuana is better than alcohol! Just think about pesticides etc. and stuff put in it to give the better high on your brain! I am totally against it!

      • William Denison

        Dar, ask any patrol cop which call he or she would rather take. A call about some people useing cannabis or a call about people who have been drinking? In just a few more short years cannabis use will be legal everywhere. Start talking to your broker now on how to get in on the ground floor.

    • Kamandak

      Here’s a ‘challenge’ you can do at home in regards to marijuana being less harmful than alcohol. Day 1 – smoke as much weed as you possibly can Day 2- Drink as much alcohol as you possibly can. Day 3 – Oh wait – you’ll be dead from Day 2.

    • Troy Hendrickson

      Alcohol, according to the State, is the most dangerous drug in terms of lives lost, lost productivity, detriment to family etc, in other words, all areas.

      To the extent that it’s harm exceeds the harm attributed to all illicit drugs combined.

      Cannabis use on the other hand has the lowest amount attributed to it and many cases the “harm” is created by the law, not the use or abuse.

      Cannabis has been used medically, if not recreationally, since the time of Pharaoh. Anyone who thinks our founding fathers didn’t have a puff or two on occasion would be naïve given the facts of it’s existence in colonial times.

      So the bottom line is, if you consider cannabis dangerous enough to be subject to prohibition as opposed to regulation, then you must demand prohibition of alcohol as well since it is in fact the most dangerous, most abused drug in the state of Iowa, if not the entire country.

  • William Denison

    Washington state now issues license to grow cannabis in your own home as of today. The tide is turning. The people of this state are going to have to be more vocal if they want changes in the law here. The first amendment is a wonderful thing.

    • Troy Hendrickson

      The problem is, the governor has already stated that even if the people who elected him pass a bill to legalize cannabis in any form, he will spit in the face of the people and veto it.

  • MaryCannon Derisory Apodaca

    I have to wonder what the REAL DEAL is here.
    Someone wants something and by getting the people of
    Iowa all stirred up over a MEXICAN DRUG CARTEL in Iowa…..
    There is some purpose ….WHAT is it?
    I am not good at riddles so someone will have to explain this
    insanity to me. .

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