Los Angeles police have seized roughly 373,000 cannabis plants from California’s desert in a historic crackdown on black market cannabis.
The cannabis crops were seized during a series of police raids in California’s Antelope Valley, located north of Los Angeles. The raids were carried out over a ten-day period last month by multiple law enforcement agencies.
In total, police seized roughly 373,000 live cannabis plants and over 33,480 lbs of dry cannabis in the raids. They estimate the cannabis would be worth about $US.1.2 billion ($AU1.6 billion) on California’s black market.
The cannabis was taken from 205 different illegal cannabis grow sites. However, police believe there are more undisturbed sites in the Antelope Valley, as they have identified another 295 sites using aerial surveillance. According to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, this is a massive increase from last year – when just 150 illegal cannabis grows were found in the valley.
During the raid, police also made 131 arrests in connection with the cannabis crops. Twenty-two of these arrests were on felony charges, and the remainder were misdemeanours.
While little is known about who the cannabis crops belonged to, Sheriff Villanueva believes many grow sites were tied to organised crime groups.
Los Angeles County has seen a significant proliferation of illegal outdoor marijuana grows, especially in the Antelope Valley. Many of these grows have been directly tied to Mexican drug trafficking organisations and Asian and Armenian organised crime groups.
Police also believe the cartel members associated with the crops threatened residents and stole millions of gallons of water. But they may have also been polluting the local area as well, as unrelated cannabis cultivation can leak toxic fertilisers, pesticides, trash, sediment and petrol into an area’s local waters.
The sale of recreational cannabis has now been legal in California for three years, after it was first permitted in January 2018. However, legalisation didn’t completely stamp out the black market – as high cannabis taxes have inspired many users to seek out cheaper black market cannabis.
The Antelope Valley bust is currently the largest cannabis bust in US history. According to police, the cannabis seized in the bust was destroyed.