In a 10-day operation in California's Antelope Valley, sheriff's officials said they seized 373,000 marijuana plants and 33,480 pounds of harvested marijuana. The estimated street value of the pot is more than $1 billion, officials said, making it the biggest haul ever in Los Angeles County, KNBC reports. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies were involved, and Sheriff Alex Villanueva showed photos of the large operations at a news conference Wednesday. Using 205 search warrants, he said, deputies made 131 arrests, seized 65 vehicles, destroyed 30 marijuana grows, and removed 180 animals. Several weapons and thousands of dollars in cash were also taken, per KTTV. Recreational marijuana sales have been broadly legal in the state since 2018. Black market operations are still booming, though, partly because of substantial taxes placed on legal products.
About 500 illegal marijuana growing areas have been spotted in the Palmdale-Lancaster area so far this year, and officials listed several ways they do harm. Most of the large operations are connected to Mexican drug trafficking organizations and Asian and Armenian crime groups, Villanueva said. "Over 90% of the folks working these farms are indentured servants of some form," said Republican US Rep. Mike Garcia, adding, "these are not mom-and-pop or legal operations that we are fighting." Crime in the area is up. Remote grows often use banned pesticides and hazardous chemicals that can get into streams and ground water. Water is being stolen at night from farmers' wells. "What we want to do is send a clear message to the cartels and anyone doing illegal operations in the High Desert," Villanueva said. "Your days are over, and we are coming for you." (Read more marijuana stories.)