Officials in Los Angeles County announced the most recent data for one illegal marijuana seizure operation, the findings of which rank up to $1.2 billion in value.
In a news conference on July 7, Sheriff Alex Villanueva elaborated on the details of a recent seizure conducted by his department. A 10-day operation in the Mojave Desert led to the seizure of 373,000 plants, and 33,480 pounds of illegal marijuana, which the department valued at approximately $1.2 billion.
According to The Associated Press, the location was home to illegal marijuana farms with connections to drug cartels.
Apparently, it was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s largest operation in its history. The department’s second largest operation included the investigation of 70 greenhouses and the seizure of $50 million in cannabis. Villanueva also noted that last year, the department suspected about 150 illegal grow sites in Antelope Valley, but the number has increased to about 500 as of this year. “There were some people very, very busy during the pandemic,” Villanueva told the Valley Post News.
Many Illegal Marijuana Operations Were Spotted By Air
Representative Mike Garcia, who represents the 25th Congressional District where the seizure took place, spoke about how easy it was to find illegal grows while scouting in a helicopter when he flew out earlier in April this year. “I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of these illegal nurseries throughout our desert being manned by primarily illegal immigrants,” Garcia said.
“Over 90 percent of the folks working these farms are indentured servants of some form. They’re stealing our water, in many cases they’re squatting on our land,” Garcia continued. This poses a major problem to the environment of remote areas, where the use of banned pesticides and harmful chemicals can harm wildlife and taint local water sources. Not to mention the millions of gallons of water being stolen in an already drought-ridden region of the state, which affects local farmers who grow agricultural goods such as alfalfa, potatoes and carrots.
According to Garcia, he first took action because cartel members were reportedly threatening local residents, which led to Garcia’s movement for action. “This isn’t about right vs. left or Republicans vs. Democrat, this is about right vs. wrong and enforcing the law,” he said. “These operations are not legal. The players involved in these operations are putting our constituents and our residents in harms’ way. They’re threatening them on a daily basis.” He said that the amount of cannabis seized in this operation could fill two Sea World orca tanks.
Garcia defended his statement, and clarified that their goal is to target massive illegal operations, not average business people. “I want to be very clear that these are not mom and pop or legal operations that we are fighting,” he said. “These are large-scale illegal operations in many cases being run by several different cartels right here in our backyard.”
This is just one example of illegal drug trafficking running rampant behind the scenes of California’s legal cannabis program. In the end of June, 15,000 plants were seized in San Diego County by local law enforcement, as well as cannabis product valued at approximately $7.5 million. This was done with the help of San Diego Gas & Electric and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“San Diego County’s Code Enforcement, investigators from the California Water Board, and San Diego Gas & Electric also assisted in today’s operation. They discovered numerous violations creating a dangerous situation, as well as environmental-related crimes happening on the property due to the illegal cultivation. It is not uncommon for investigators to find dangerous chemicals, illegal pesticides and other hazardous materials used at unlicensed marijuana grow sites,” the department stated in a press release. “These dangerous materials may enter the local ground water supply and streams, creating extreme environmental hazards.”
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