Foreign Nationals Establishing Massive Cannabis Plantations In The High Desert

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Marijuana Enforcement Team in recent weeks has encountered a wave of large-scale cannabis cultivation operations, predominantly in remote desert locations.
A pattern has emerged in the activity, which more often than not involves foreign nationals or recent immigrants to America, who commonly assert in their legal defense that they interpreted the recent liberalization of marijuana laws as license for them to grow the plant for profit.
Of note is that in taking action to shutter the facilities and effect the arrests of those involved in the elicit enterprises, officials are defining the greenhouses where the cultivation occurs as outdoor rather than indoor premises.
While California law allows adults to engage in the growing of up to six marijuana plants, and authorities have in many cases chosen to look the other way with regard to gardens involving a dozen or more plantings, the operations in question are boldly large, in some of the cases rivaling or exceeding the size of industrial cannabis nurseries. Regulations layered into the law further disallow in most jurisdictions, as in the case of San Bernardino County, the growing of marijuana outdoors. Commercial cultivation of cannabis must take place indoors under such regulations. Moreover, such operations require a permit and licensing.
On February 2, a team of deputies and investigators, in possession of a search warrant and in response to reports that a massive unlicensed and illicit marijuana cultivation operation was in place on property in El Mirage, swooped onto the site at 2 p.m. There, some 12.5 miles northwest of Adelanto, they found 12 people on or immediately proximate to the property, which featured greenhouses in which 18,884 plants were growing.
After a brief investigation into the circumstance, five of the dozen people at the site were arrested.
“The investigations revealed the cannabis cultivation was not in compliance with California’s Medical and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and San Bernardino County’s ordinance prohibiting commercial cannabis activity,” according to a statement by the sheriff’s department. “San Bernardino County has an ordinance prohibiting commercial cannabis activity, which includes growing marijuana plants outdoors.”
Taken into custody were Chen Guo Jin, 48, of Sanford, Florida; Johnny Chan, 39, of Los Angeles; Zhi Fei Qian, 57, of Apple Valley; Kefei Wang, 34, of Concord; and Zhen Williamson, 52, of Denham Springs, Louisiana.
“The sheriff’s gangs/narcotics division will continue to enforce California’s cannabis laws and San Bernardino County’s ordinance regarding cannabis cultivation and distribution,” the department’s prepared statement read. “Property owners who are growing marijuana or are aware their tenants are growing marijuana on their properties violate state law and local ordinances, and may also be subject to civil or criminal sanctions. Those found guilty of violating state law and the county ordinance are subject to fines, prosecution and property seizure.”
The El Mirage raid on Tuesday came six days after similar busts at two locations, one in Lucerne Valley and one in Johnson Valley in which 1,903 marijuana plants and 306.5 pounds of harvested marijuana were seized on January 27. Arrested in conjunction with those cultivation operations were Basemen Hernandez-Cruz, 30, of Oxnard, and his brother, Gerardo Hernandez-Cruz, 21, of Santa Maria.
On January 6 at 8:30 a.m., the sheriff’s Marijuana Enforcement Team served a search warrant in the 2600 block of Parkdale Road in Adelanto, where they found 19,998 marijuana plants along with 186 pounds of harvested and partially cured marijuana. Also at the site were three firearms and a stolen truck.
Joining the drug squad in that operation was the sheriff’s department’s desert gang suppression team. The nearly 20,000 plants were being grown in 24 large greenhouses on the property. The law enforcement officers arrested and then cite-released 12 people who were present on the property. Members of both law enforcement teams spent more than eight hours at the site, dismantling the cultivation facilities and interrogating the suspects, all but one of whom claimed to be residents of Adelanto.
Cited were Shihua Want, 70, of Adelanto; Shi Xin Jiang, 66, of Adelanto; Liyon Dong, 36, of Adelanto; Xin Zheng Guan, 38, of Adelanto; Mei Jin You, 49, of Adelanto; Chun Tao Lu, 41, of Adelanto; Xiaoqun Yu, 53, of Adelanto; Jian Feng Yu, 47, of Adelanto; Wan Huang Wu, 42, of Adelanto; Xing Qiang Li, 45, of Adelanto; Xihong Huang, 26, of Adelanto; and Guang Yi, 22, of El Monte.
-Mark Gutglueck

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