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Booby Traps, AK-47s & The Battle In America’s Most Pristine Places: Hidden War Book Review

“No matter where one stands on the issue — user or non-user, pro-cannabis or against — everyone was disgusted and emotionally moved when seeing the cartel’s firepower, their anti-personnel and animal-killing booby traps, their trash-infested and polluted grow complexes and waterways, and the poisoned wildlife common to illegal marijuana grows.” – Hidden War, John Nores

The marijuana issue isn’t as settled as it may seem. John Nores explains why in his must-read book, Hidden War, a memoir that challenges readers to consider the nuance at the intersection of drug policy, national security and environmental issues.

The 256-page book published by Caribou Media Group won’t reinforce whatever political convention the cover conjures in the reader, despite the bold marijuana leaf and the kitted up operator. What it will do is tell the story of how John Nores, a state game warden in California, built a program in the early part of this decade to get aggressive with illegal marijuana grows on public land.

Nores’ efforts became the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET), the first unit of its kind in the country. The MET took its cues from veteran military operators, who trained and joined the unit.

If this sounds overboard for a state game warden usually tasked with checking fishing licenses, it’s time to dig deeper into this issue. As Hidden War details blow-by-blow and shot-by-shot, the MET’s raids on illegal grows didn’t target kids goofing off in the woods with a few pot plants.

It turns out that public lands – including state and national parks – are prime choices for foreign drug cartels to grow marijuana in the United States. This illegal acreage comes with all the bells and whistles of a cartel operation anywhere else, from AK-47s to booby traps.

Nores’ breakdowns of the infiltrations, firefights, arrests, and extractions, which make up the bulk of Hidden War, are as thrilling as they are unsettling. This is all right under everyone’s proverbial noses. It’s one thing when a unit like MET goes up against an armed cartel. It’s another when a family out for a hike in a public park, in California or elsewhere, watches their dog stumble into a punji pit.

Hidden War isn’t a woodsy retread of Reefer Madness, though. Replace “drug cartel” with “environmental terrorists,” and the book solidifies itself as an essential piece of journalism, even in light of marijuana legalization in California.

Drug cartels will produce black market marijuana regardless of rollbacks on prohibition, as Nores details. They can grow marijuana with less regulatory overhead than legal operations busying themselves with licensing and lawyers, and no one charges rent on public land. This allows cartels to undercut the legal market on price, ensuring a thriving gray market of cannabis consumers.

These “savings” are passed on as severe environmental destruction. Protected wildlife habitat is cleared to make way for acres of marijuana plants. Miles of pipe redirect sensitive waterways for irrigation, killing fish and robbing the public of water during times of drought. Banned pesticides wipe out wildlife, including endangered species, to shield crops from intrusion. A tablespoon of carbofuran, recovered at the site of many grows, is “enough to decimate all the fish and other aquatic wildlife for miles,” Nores writes. As such, the MET’s K9 units, critical for non-lethal apprehension, quickly cycled through dogs.

Photo courtesy of Gun Digest

Those same chemicals make their way into the finished marijuana product. End-users may be getting a deal, but they’re also getting poisoned. That’s why Nores describes legal marijuana growers as his biggest allies, working hand-in-hand to reclaim grow sites.

And what a chore that is, since the sloppy grow camps leave behind literal tons of toxic debris in the country’s most pristine places. The waste must be extracted by hand or helicopter, an expensive undertaking even with volunteer help.

In a twist, Nores writes, rolling back marijuana prohibitions gave cartel growers more legal cover to operate in this way. However, Nores is careful not to condemn marijuana reform overall. He recognizes the important role the legal industry can play in curbing these environmental issues, while remaining silent on legalization itself. This leaves plenty of space for readers’ pet philosophies to fill in the blanks.

That’s why Hidden War lingers so long after the covers close. Cutting drug cartels off at the knees should’ve been as quick and easy as saying, “legalize it.” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

To learn more about Hidden War or to order the book online or for digital download, click HERE.

About the Author

Benjamin Sobieck is the author of Outdoor Survival: A Guide to Staying Safe Outside (Adventure Publications) and The Writer’s Guide to Weapons (Writer’s Digest, Penguin Random House). He is also the founder of Writer’s Block Coffee® (

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