Just in time for the California poppy craze, Ventura has had its own poppy bloom attracting the attention of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
On Thursday, May 23, the City of Ventura Public Works Department was notified by an anonymous caller that plants growing on the east side of Kimball Park were the type of poppy used in the production of opium drugs, most notably heroin.
The department notified the Ventura Resident Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who in turn reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as to DEA botanists and chemists to determine if the plants were Papaver somniferum, also known as opium or breadseed poppy.
“We strongly suspect that it is the plant that is native to Southeast Asia, mostly Afghanistan, commonly associated with heroin,” said DEA Special Agent Kyle Mori, adding, however, that confirming with absolute certainty that it is the opium poppy would require further lab testing, which will not be performed.
“There’s no victim, no suspect and even if we knew the ID, it’s unclear what their motive for planting them there was, so based on the fact that it would be very low probability those questions would ever be answered, there’s no reason to open up an investigation,” said Mori.
City of Ventura Parks Manager Tom Martin says that he isn’t sure how the poppies came to be growing at Kimball Park, adding that they could have been growing there for up to seven years.
“They’re not plants that were planted by us, they’ve been there for quite a while,” said Martin. “We weren’t aware of the drug properties or potential drug properties in those plants, once they were brought to our attention we had them taken out right away.”
On the morning of Friday, May 24, the plants were removed, remnants of the flowers, stems and pods found strewn about the grounds. Heroin is just one product derived from Papaver somniferum. The seeds have both culinary and pharmaceutical uses, such as in baking or pain-relieving drugs like hydrocodone. The legality of the plant itself is as murky as the milk it produces, with Special Agent Mori calling them “generally illegal.”
“It would be illegal if they’re being used to harvest and produce heroin,” said Mori. He says that this variety of poppy cannot be purchased commercially in the United States. “It’s unclear if these plants, in the manner and location they were planted, if it even would constitute a crime.”
Both Martin and Mori said that they cannot remember or recall another instance of a plant like Papaver somniferum growing on public lands.
“We’ll be taking a look at all of our facilities now that this has been brought to our attention,” said Martin. So far, no more poppies have been found.
To catch a glimpse of the perfectly legal variety of Matilija poppy, however, pop on over to the Matilija Poppy Festival this weekend in Thousand Oaks, https://www.facebook.com/events/925272981146125/.
Have you seen what you suspect may be Papaver somniferum? If so, let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.