On Wednesday, officials in Los Angeles County announced that law enforcement had seized more than 16 tons of illegal cannabis in what was described as the largest marijuana eradication effort in the history of the sheriff’s department.
NBC4 reported, “Sheriff Alex Villanueva showed photos of the sprawling operation at a morning news conference to discuss details of a recent 10-day operation that seized 373,000 marijuana plants and 33,480 pounds of harvested pot with an estimated street value of nearly $1.2 billion.”
The multi-agency operation targeted the Antelope Valley in northern L.A. County, which is part of the Mojave Desert. One of the 205 locations served with search warrants had more than 70 greenhouses cultivating plants unlawfully.
“Many of these grows have been directly tied to Mexican drug trafficking organizations and Asian and Armenian organized crime groups,” said Villanueva. “What we want to do is send a clear message to the cartels and anyone doing illegal operations in the High Desert: your days are over, and we are coming for you.”
Even though California legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2018, excessive taxes have resulted in a thriving black market.
Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife joined Villanueva along with several Republican elected officials, including L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris, and U.S. Rep Mike Garcia.
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) July 7, 2021
Congressman Garcia recently said he had taken a helicopter tour over the area and seen “hundreds, if not thousands, of these illegal nurseries throughout our desert being manned by primarily illegal immigrants.”
“I want to be very clear that these are not mom and pop or legal operations that we are fighting,” he continued. “These are large-scale illegal operations in many cases being run by several different cartels right here in our backyard.”
According to Villanueva, illegal marijuana cultivations have caused other crimes in the vicinity to increase. He estimated law enforcement had raided about 40% of the sites on their radar and vowed to address them all eventually.
“Threats by armed individuals against citizens living in close proximity to the illegal marijuana grows, and passersby on public roadways near grow sites have occurred on a regular basis and are increasing in frequency,” said Villanueva.
Sheriff Villanueva said the illegal grow operations are also a threat to the environment and wildlife. Toxic chemicals contaminating the land nearby are suspected to have caused the deaths of two bears found by officials, he said.
ABC7 reported that Villanueva blamed drug cartels for “stealing water in the middle of the night from farmers.” According to the outlet, “Villanueva said the stolen water is typically loaded onto tanker trucks and then delivered to the grow sites in the area.” He said growers also steal millions of gallons from illegal wells.
Law enforcement arrested 131 people during the operation and seized 33 firearms and 65 vehicles, including two water trucks. Authorities said they also rescued 84 dogs.
Villanueva said more than 400 personnel from multiple departments and agencies were part of the operation, including DEA agents; California National Guard; California Department of Fish and Wildlife; Kern County Sheriff’s Department; Riverside County Sheriff’s Department; San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department; and Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.