LOS ANGELES (AP
) — Authorities said Wednesday that the largest illegal marijuana bust in Los Angeles County history
, which netted 373,000 plants
worth $1 billion on the black
market, eliminated only a fraction of the illegal grows in the Southern California
According to officials, the problem is widespread in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles and has grown significantly during the coronavirus pandemic
. Armed cartel members run massive illegal grows, some spanning dozens of greenhouses, that are harmful to the state's legal marijuana market.
Last month, a 10-day operation in the Antelope Valley resulted in 131 arrests and the seizure of more than 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms) of harvested marijuana plants by multiple law enforcement
Despite this, the project only demolished 205 illegal grows out of 500 seen by aerial surveillance in the area. Last year, Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated that only 150 illegal grows were identified in the Antelope Valley, with scores more in other nearby counties.
During a severe drought
, cartel members have threatened residents and stolen millions of gallons of water
, according to Villanueva, and their growing operations have poisoned streams and groundwater with harmful pesticides, harming wildlife
California legalized recreational marijuana
sales in January 2018, but the black market is thriving, in part because high legal marijuana taxes
drive customers to seek out lower-cost alternatives.
The Antelope Valley operation and the legal market were differentiated by officials.
“This is not a war on California’s legal cannabis
industry,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, who represents the district.