Harvested marijuana dries in a Los Angeles farm busted by law enforcement in May 2022. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Los Angeles County narcotics investigators were unable to convince District Attorney George Gascon or California Attorney General Rob Bonta to file felony charges against international cartel members after busting the largest illegal marijuana operation in the area’s history.
The monthslong operation culminated during 10 days in May when 287 search warrants were served by hundreds of law enforcement officials in a desert north of Los Angeles. They found harvested marijuana worth $1.4 billion along with 40 firearms, which included numerous rifles. Authorities arrested 105 people.
Weapons seized in a raid on an illegal marijuana farm outside Los Angeles in May 2022. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Investigators sought to convince Gascon’s office that felony charges were warranted in this case because of the egregious nature of the farm sites. Hazardous pesticides were routinely used on 270,000 plants that have certainly infiltrated the groundwater, said Lt. Howard Fuchs with the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
The answer was a resounding no.
The sheriff’s department wanted to charge Health and Safety Code Section 11358, a felony, which alleges that the suspects violated a water code pertaining to hazardous runoff by using carbofuran. This illegal pesticide immediately kills wildlife up to the size of a bear.
“Our investigators were unable to convince prosecutors to file felony charges,” Fuchs said of Gascon’s satellite office in Antelope Valley, which is on the way to California’s central farm belt. “The filing DA and the presiding judge said the case was overcharged by using the felony section.”
Last month, Bonta toured Antelope Valley by helicopter to view the epidemic of illegal marijuana groves sprouting up around the state, sucking dry the water wells, aquifers, and other supplies during a drought. The recent record-breaking raid was discussed with him in a forum that included other elected officials and law enforcement.
“I told him we attempted to file these as felonies,” Fuchs said. “He was receptive. He listened intently and took notes and asked questions.”
But there has been no response from Bonta regarding holding the suspects accountable, and so far, nothing has happened. Nine people in the group faced felony weapons charges, but the rest received citations tantamount to traffic tickets. The suspects were released and are likely out scouting for a new location to resume business, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
California laws lack teeth when it comes to commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. Perpetrators face misdemeanor charges of operating cultivation sites without a state permit and are usually back in business immediately, officials say.
Undaunted, law enforcement destroy their camps and moved on to their next investigation.
Villanueva called the inability to hold cartels accountable “disturbing.”
“As a lifelong Sierra Club member and environmentalist, I’ve always done everything I can to protect the environment,” he said. “You can’t get much worse than cartels destroying the environment for profit. This is impacting the community in the high desert, the water supply, the environment, the wildlife. Last year, we came across the carcasses of bears who had been drinking contaminated water.”
Gascon has a stated policy of downgrading felony charges in many violent crimes, including murder, gang involvement, and sexual assault. He did not respond to a request for comment. As for Bonta, he said in a press release that illicit marijuana growers need to be held accountable.
“Illegal grow sites harm our environment and undermine businesses that do things the right way,” Bonta said. “Together, we’re fighting to stop our waterways from being polluted and pushing back on illegal and unlicensed activity. I greatly appreciate the work of all of our partners across the state to continue to take on this challenge.”
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Tori Richards on Washington Examiner
Published: August 04, 2022