Officials bust illegal marijuana grow operation in Antelope Valley

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, left, and Rep. Mike Garcia look inside a greenhouse growing illegal marijuana in the Antelope Valley. Courtesy Office of Mike Garcia.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced 23 arrests Tuesday as part of an illegal marijuana grow bust in the Antelope Valley that involved 400 personnel from several local, state and federal agencies. 

“It’s been quite an auspicious day today,” Villanueva said during a news conference in Lancaster. “We started this process months back when we were starting to get a lot of complaints from the (high desert) residents … (of) how these illegal marijuana grows (were) impacting life here.” 

“We still don’t have the specific numbers in terms of the bust,” Deputy Eric Ortiz, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s Department, told The Signal, noting the department is still weighing the illegal marijuana confiscated from the bust.  

Villanueva said that one marijuana crop from the bust is worth $50 million. 

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, joined Villanueva along with representatives from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and sheriff’s departments from three surrounding counties. 

Garcia called the group “one of the most impressive combined forces our nation has ever seen,” and added, “What we’re seeing today is us reclaiming our state and getting back to law and order and valuing law enforcement.”  

Illegal marijuana operations in the deserts of north Los Angeles County are also believed to include illegal grows in Acton and Agua Dulce. 

The Sheriff’s Department bulldozed one operation with 74 greenhouses on 10 acres Tuesday, Villanueva said, calling the issue “one of those existential threats that L.A. County is facing.” 

“We have spoken with farmers, with residents. Armed cartel members stealing water in the middle of the night has become a common sight,” he said, noting his department will soon serve another 200 search warrants. “This is a threat on so many different levels. It cannot go unaddressed and unanswered.” 

Villanueva said the Sherriff’s Narcotics Bureau identified 150 illegal marijuana grow operations last year. In 2021, he said more than 500 have been identified. 

“Violent crime is part of the trade for the cartels and has been associated with these illegal grows,” he said, also noting the environmental impact of the illegal operations. “It was our obligation to put an end to this.” 

“On June 22nd, Supervisor Barger will bring action items to the Board of Supervisors based on a comprehensive report out this week,” Charles Bostwick, Barger’s assistant field deputy in the Antelope Valley, said during the news conference. 

The report, he said, identifies new ways county departments can stop illegal grows and hold perpetrators accountable, including by changing state law. 

“I am thankful for our law enforcement community and agencies who dedicated resources to this successful and collaborative effort,” Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said in a prepared statement, calling the grows “a mounting toxic issue.” 

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