Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department stated Wednesday that they had captured more than 16 tonnes of marijuana worth an estimated $1.19 billion.
The 10-day sting is the department’s largest eradication of illegal marijuana cultivations in its history.
According to officials, the operation began on June 8 and resulted in 22 felony charges, 109 misdemeanour arrests, and 19 arrests by water theft enforcement teams.
Search warrants were served at almost 200 locations. A total of over 375,000 marijuana plants and 33,480 pounds of harvested marijuana, as well as 65 vehicles, 180 animals, and $28,000, were seized.
Officials suspect the unlawful large-scale marijuana fields are the work of multinational cartels.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Lancaster, California Mayor Rex Parris stated;
“We’re talking about the cartels. We’re not talking about mum and pop shops selling pot grown in their own backyards. This is where cartels come into play. We’re on the verge of seeing bodies dangling from overpasses as we drive along the motorway. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
While recreational marijuana usage was allowed in California in 2018, illegal marijuana cultivation has been on the rise in the state.
According to a June announcement, detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Narcotic Bureau discovered over 500 illicit marijuana cultivations in 2021, up from 150 in 2020.
The average size of a glasshouse on a farm climbed to 15 from eight the year before, according to investigators.
“What we want to do is send a clear and loud message to the cartels and anyone else operating illegally in the high desert: Your days are numbered, and we’re going for you,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Water theft, human trafficking, pollution, and risks to safety and security are among the consequences of illegal marijuana growing by cartels, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
“This illegal behaviour is affecting citizens’ and businesses’ quality of life, and if left ignored, will have long-term and severe consequences in the region,” Barger warned.
She demanded that those apprehended in the operation be prosecuted by the district attorney. Once the district attorney’s prosecution decision is released, Villanueva said he will make it public.
“This is a problem that will continue to plague us until we make it very uncomfortable, and one way to make it uncomfortable is to prosecute,” Barger added.
Major Joint-Operation underway in the High Desert to take down Illegal Cartel Operated Marijuana Groves impacting farmers, families, and businesses. We have teamed up with the @usarmy @deahq @vcsheriff @kernsheriff @seblasd to eradicate these illegal Marijuana groves. pic.twitter.com/y21yWExTT9
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) June 8, 2021