Police ended a yearlong investigation into the marijuana trade in Northern California by announcing the arrests of 26 people in late April.
Operation Safe Counties, as it was known, targeted cultivators and distributors in Shasta County and in Trinity County in the Emerald Triangle. The crackdown was announced by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, and Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney.
Specifically, federal agents and local police went after people in the two counties who grew weed on public land, as well as people who were growing it on private land and distributing it across the state and the country.
Sixteen defendants were charged with felony drug crimes by the U.S. attorney, while 10 were charged with drug and environmental crimes by the Shasta County District Attorney.
Throughout the investigation, authorities seized or destroyed almost 60,000 cannabis plants, more than 2,100 pounds of processed plant matter, 70 guns, and more than $1 million in cash. The operation led to several other investigations that are still underway, police said.
“The use of public lands in Shasta and Trinity County for the commercial cultivation of marijuana poses a threat to members of the public who own and use those lands and to the land itself,” Wagner said in a press release. “The use of private lands to produce marijuana for sale in other states, often involving weapons and potential violence, violates federal law and creates dangerous conditions here in Northern California. Along with our state and local law enforcement partners, we are committed to combatting those crimes.”
The operation started late last spring. In an early bust, cops in June 2013 raided an outdoor marijuana garden in Shasta Trinity National Forest. They destroyed nearly 29,000 plants. Salvador Alcazar-Varelas, 28, pleaded guilty in April to charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana.
Agents and police also went after growers on private land. John Richard Leithmann, Eric Cop, and Mark Cop face similar charges after they were arrested last year and two of them admitted to growing pot on a rural property in Palo Cedro. Several hundred plants were found on the site, indoors and out.
California has long been the focus of multi-jurisdictional, anti-weed operations by federal agents and local police. Millions of dollars have been wasted arresting growers and distributors, shutting down dispensaries, and seizing property from innocent landlords.
The investigation that ended in April will have little to no impact beyond the arrested individuals. Trinity County is part of the Emerald Triangle, the nation’s Weed Country. Wiping out 60,000 plants there is like removing a drop of water from the ocean.