Crack down on illegal pot farms that provide killer fentanyl

The Democrats kept the Senate. GOP gets the House. So how about if we – i.e., the politicians and the news media – dispense with the partisan political junk for a while?

How about if we all sit down and try to fix some of the country’s chronic crises that we hear about every day but that only keep getting worse? How about if we start with fentanyl? In the last six months, we have heard hundreds of politicians and media talking heads toss around the fact that fentanyl is killing 100,000 Americans every year. Everyone with a smartphone knows by now that fentanyl is super powerful and super lethal, that it comes to the U.S. from China via Mexico’s fentanyl mills and that it’s a common and growing problem in every city and state.

The cold statistics are a damning indictment of how little success we’ve had in the fight against fentanyl. In 2021 nearly 108,000 Americans died from drug overdoses – 71,000 were from fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances. Of the nearly 900 teenagers who died from drug overdoses, illicit fentanyl accounted for 77%.

Learning that L.A. public schools are now required to keep NARCAN nasal spray on hand to revive a student who has overdosed on opioids is shocking. But seeing the faces of some middle and high school kids who recently died after taking a fentanyl pill disguised as a legal drug is heartbreaking.

You can see five of those faces in a Nov. 12 L.A. Times article about how more teenagers than ever are dying from fentanyl poisoning in California and elsewhere. The L.A. Times article didn’t explain how those fentanyl pills crossed into California or how the state’s voters made it possible.

But a lot of the fentanyl reportedly flows through the marijuana pipeline from Mexico that Californians opened up in 2016 when they voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use and made it legal to commercially grow pot on farms. When voters passed Proposition 64, they didn’t know it, but they were inviting the violent Mexican drug cartels to come in and set up shop in California. Prop 64 was sold in the name of personal freedom (and because it was a new source of $5 billion in tax revenue for the state). But it’s been a disaster.

The 8,600 licensed marijuana farmers now in California are not the problem. It’s the tens of thousands of illegal pot farms. The illegal farms, which far outnumber legal ones, are forcing permitted growers out of business, undercutting their prices and taking over the pot market.

What really is bad is that the illegal pot farms – some of which are sprawling, multi-million operations – have become fertile fields for crime and gang warfare. As USA Today reported last year, the area along the California-Oregon border is like a war zone with shootouts, murders and robberies.

Illegal farms are also a serious problem in the deserts of Southern California, where L.A. County alone has 500 illegal pot farms. A friend of mine who has property in Apple Valley warns the people who work for him not to talk to anyone at the local illegal pot farm and definitely not to take their photos.

Some parents in the area are so worried that they have put trackers on their kids and in their cars in case anything happens to them. It’s not paranoia. The Mexican drug cartels have moved into California, and they play hard and dirty.

Putting NARCAN in our high schools makes sense, given the realities, but it’s nothing more than a bandage for the victims of the war on fentanyl. What we need now, along with much more national media coverage, is for some major politicians of both parties to come up with a plan to defeat the scourge of fentanyl – and have the spines to carry it out.

Michael Reagan, the son of President Reagan, is an author, speaker and president of the Reagan Legacy Foundation. Send comments to