On Wednesday authorities said that they had conducted the largest seizure of marijuana in the history of busts in Los Angeles County. However, they also acknowledged the fact that it is a small fraction of the illicit growth of the plants in the county. Although marijuana has been legalized, a huge illegal market, controlled by Armenian, Mexican and Asian gangs flourishes and it has thrived through the pandemic.
Law enforcement hauled in 375,000 plants and 16 tons of the processed drug with a street value of $1 billion. They also seized a cache of weapons and vehicles including water trucks. Drug cartels have used these vehicles to steal about two to three million gallons of water, amid the drought. Last month, multiple law enforcement authorities undertook a ten-day operation in Antelope Valley. They made 131 arrests of gang members belonging to Armenian, Mexican and Chinese cartels.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that 150 illegal grows were identified in Antelope Valley and there were many more in the surrounding counties. He also said that the cartel members steal millions of gallons of water from residents and poison the ground water and streams with pesticides used in these illegal farms.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said that her office received reports that apparent cartel members had gone to other people’s properties; taking them over and threatening the lives of these residents, if they interfered with their illegal operations. She also said that this could spread throughout the Los Angeles County.
U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia said that this was not a war on the legal cannabis business in California. The leaders said in a town hall meeting that the illegal farms were in operation although California’s Prop 64 legalized and created a market for marijuana.
One of the reasons why the black market is still thriving could be the costs as marijuana is heavily taxed. Illegal growers avoid these taxes and sell it at a lower rate to consumers. The pandemic also increased demand as well as decreased policing which led to a flourish in the illegal trade.