Butte Valley drug bust, nets $5.5M worth of illicit marijuana

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On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) coordinated a series of counter-drug operations, seizing 610 very large, mature, illegal marijuana plants in the Butte Valley area of Siskiyou County, southwest of Macdoel, California.

Two search warrants were served at five illegal marijuana gardens at the various sites. 

In addition to the 610 illicit plants seized, 100 pounds of processed marijuana were seized, along with equipment used for the illegal drug operations. 

The seizures disrupted an illegal drug trafficking operation as evidenced by the fact the plants seized were high-yield plants, many with an estimated yield of between six to eight pounds each, due to their size and the number of budding product recovered by investigators.

The 610 illegal plants, using a county 3-pound yield average, are worth approximately $3.7 million to $5.5 million on the Eastern United States (US) black market retail drug market.  The California illicit marijuana market, which is flooded with product and thus less costly, based on the 3-pound per plant average yield, would range in value on the retail black market  of approximately $732,000.00 to $915,000.00.

The Siskiyou Interagency Marijuana Investigation Team (SIMIT) led the counter-drug raids, focusing their operations on large, illegal marijuana cultivation sites primarily outdoors in the rural Butte Valley, Red Rock-area parcels.

Busts year to date

Combining May, June, July, August, and early-September enforcement totals, SIMIT has seized 33,398 illegal marijuana plants. During 2019, SIMIT has seized 1,883 pounds of processed marijuana.

Processed marijuana is mature marijuana that has been harvested and it is typically trimmed and packaged for transportation and illegal sales.  This is normally indicated by preparation and packaging configurations.  All marijuana cultivation sites were abandoned at the time of the most recent search warrant operations. 

The year-to-date values of the 33,398 illegal marijuana plants seized, based on a mature, 3-pound average yield per-plant, equates to a black market value on the Eastern US retail drug market of approximately $200.4 million to $300.6 million.

The processed marijuana year-to-date seizures (1,883 pounds), based on Eastern US illicit retail drug black market values range from approximately $3.8  million to $5.7 million. 

California illicit and legal marijuana markets are saturated with finished marijuana products, which has drastically reduced wholesale and retail values of the processed drug in this state to a few hundred dollars a pound, which prompts most of the producers in Siskiyou County to cultivate, package, and transport the illicit product out-of-state to the more lucrative commercial, retail markets.

For example, California prices for the same amount of marijuana (33,398 plants, based on the 3-pound yield at maturity estimate) would yield approximately $40.0 million to $50.0 million and the processed marijuana (1,883 pounds) would yield approximately $753,200.00 to $941,500.00.  These estimates for illicit marijuana sales on the East Coast and values in California could be more or less, depending on the location and buyer.

Assisting with the operations were patrol deputies, sergeant, and lieutenants, correctional deputy, SIMIT detectives from SCSO and members of SCSO’s evidence-property team. Soldiers from the California Army National Guard’s (CARNG) Counter-Drug Unit assisted with operation as well.  A detective from the Siskiyou Unified Major Investigation Team (SUMIT), a local, Department of Justice (DOJ)-led (Bureau of Investigations) drug task force that specializes in drug enforcement violations including offenses related to the use or sales of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and other drugs, assisted with the operation. 

A large quantity of trash, refuse, fire dangers, and other quality of life issues were observed by investigators at most sites visited by SIMIT.

Siskiyou County officials have enacted an ordinance that prohibits all outdoor marijuana cultivation in county areas and growers are limited to 12-plants inside an approved structure, for medical marijuana.  Recreational marijuana possession on private property, pursuant to Prop 64, is limited to six marijuana plants, which may be grown in a residence or other approved, enclosed structure. 

The proliferation of illicit marijuana cultivation sites has endangered people, harmed the environment, and promoted a major interstate drug trafficking industry originating from within the county. Dangers associated with the proliferation of marijuana have proven to be particularly harmful to children and the environment. A recent U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory sounds the alarm about the dangers associated with adolescent marijuana use due to harmful effects on the developing brain, including suicide attempts and early onset of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. The Surgeon General also cautions adolescents and young women not to use marijuana during pregnancy, which is a recommendation made in 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Illicit marijuana cultivation sites in the county, both on public and private lands have presented a threat to watersheds, fish and wildlife, and have contributed to chronic quality of life and fire hazard-related challenges in several county communities.  Marijuana-related activities have been linked to deaths, including carbon monoxide poisonings, at least one murder, and traffic fatalities within the county. Fire dangers are also very evident in most of these illegal grow sites.  Illegal marijuana cultivation sites use significant amounts of water and it is estimated approximately 2.5 to 3-million gallons of water a day are being used to grow illegal cannabis products on private property in the county.  Public land consumption of water is estimated to be higher.

According to Sheriff Jon Lopey, “This counter-drug operation, which resulted in the seizure of 610 large, high-yield illicit marijuana plants this week and 100 pounds of processed, marijuana, was a noteworthy accomplishment for the SIMIT counter-drug operations. The 33,398 illegal plants and 1,883 pounds of processed marijuana, which, year-to-date, comprise a multi-million dollar illegal drug trafficking total, exclusively on private property parcels, again clearly substantiate the intent of illegal drug producers to deliberately violate state and federal laws and county ordinance provisions. The high-yield, large plants were a challenge to recover and most plants had to be severed by using chain saws and our trailers and vehicles barely absorbed the heavy loads. 

These crimes are still under investigation and anyone with information about illegal marijuana cultivation operations in their county neighborhoods or the cases subject to these recent counter-drug operations is urged to contact the SCSO’s 24-hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900.”

Press release provided from the Siskyou County Sheriffs Office.

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