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China-linked US pot farms spark raids, calls for stronger crackdowns

Law enforcement agencies from Maine to California say wealthy Chinese investors – and, many suspect, Communist party officials – are teaming up with Asian criminal organizations to take over the illicit marijuana trade in the U.S., generating enormous profits.

Some of the money is traced back to China, but it is also plowed back into U.S. real estate, generating cash flow for years to come.

Case in point: Friday in Los Angeles, where the LA County Sheriff’s Department raided three marijuana grow warehouses they identified as Chinese-operated-and-controlled.

“We’ve seen quite an influence or increase in the amount of Chinese, Asian-owned, Asian-operated marijuana cultivation sites in L.A. County since about 2021,” said an undercover narcotics detective leading Friday’s operation. “Several million dollars in profits of what’s here today and the criminal penalties are very minor.”

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Reinforced steel doors protecting each warehouse required massive rotary cutting saws to breach the buildings. Inside the first location, the entry team found some 4,000 marijuana plants growing under bright lights. Plants in each room varied by age and height, allowing for multiple harvests year-round. The THC content measured 27%, making it a highly potent brand of cannabis that would command a premium on the street – especially in large cities on the East Coast.

“We’ve tracked millions of dollars a month coming out of some of these small shops going to overseas,” said the detective, referring to the grow house operating behind a pottery outlet on a busy street in the LA suburb of El Monte. “This site had a little over 4,000 marijuana plants. At today’s yield, that’s somewhere around $2 million to $3 million at wholesale value.”

Officials at the state Bureau of Cannabis Control said large Chinese grow operations have been dominating California – from suburban Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to homes in the Bay Area, up to the so-called Emerald Triangle near the Oregon border, the hub of state cannabis production. 

“We’ve seen just tremendous explosion of Chinese folks coming in and buying land and then growing illegal marijuana,” Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told Fox News. “This scale that we’re talking, I mean, we’re talking thousands of different illegal grows within our community, and it’s just perpetuated a lot of violence.”

Arial images showed how marijuana cultivation in Siskiyou County has exploded since 2017, with as many as 8,000 grow houses now dotting the rural landscape. Each grow has averaged around a dozen acres with four to five plastic-covered “hoop houses” on site, each containing several hundred marijuana plants inside.

“Because it’s so profitable and there’s really hardly any consequences, the growth just continues,” LaRue said. “In some instances, the money is going directly back to China. As for the workers, essentially, they’re trafficking in labor, to do the cultivation. Seventy-five percent or more are undocumented individuals that we’re running into, and in the last few years, those numbers have increased dramatically.”

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Rows of marijuana plants.

A federal official who asked not to be named said the Chinese operations have been “highly sophisticted, multi-layer operations and very hard to crack. Most of the labor is trafficked and they won’t give us any meaningful information. The person on the deed is a nobody and the cases have very little prosecutorial appeal. Growing marijuana without a license is a misdemeanor and [subject to a] $500 fine. The owners flip the house and move on.”

Officials say the Chinese are active not just in California. In Oklahoma, the state Bureau of Narcotics has estimated 2,000 marijuana farms with a Chinese connection. Last Thursday, the bureau shut down a massive grow, seizing 82,979 plants and 1,955 pounds of processed marijuana, putting the street value at $300 million. Agents detained several Asian warehouse workers and arrested a 36-year-old Chinese woman for her alleged involvement in the operation.

The Department of Homeland Security also identified 270 grow operations in Maine connected to the Chinese. The agency last year began a “national intelligence-gathering initiative” to assess Chinese involvement, asking local law enforcement to alert the department if they’ve encountered Asian and Chinese trans-national criminal organizations in their investigations. 

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Pots of marijuana plants.

Last week, 50 members of Congress asked the Justice Department for a briefing on illegal marijuana farms linked to Chinese nationals, citing the DHS effort.

“There is substantial evidence implicating the [Chinese Communist Party] in directly supporting illicit marijuana grow operations across the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “Further, the same DHS document indicated 270 suspected illicit marijuana operations in rural Maine generated an estimated $4.37 billion in revenue, far outpacing the $158 million from the state’s legal marijuana market last year… This issue is not limited to the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Allowing illicit marijuana farms tied to the CCP is a continued threat to national security, public safety, and human rights.”

“We know that this money is being funneled back to China,” Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., one of the lawkmakers who signed the letter, told Fox News, “so the Chinese are using this as a moneymaking operation and also as an operation to destabilize life in the United States. The wide-open southern border is catalyzing this problem because the cartels are trafficking people across the border, and they’re establishing these camps and they lock them in. It’s a human catastrophe for everybody. 

“Recently we’ve become concerned about some findings that the Chinese Communist Party is behind this newest wave of illegal grows. That’s certainly happened. In my district, we’ve had some identified activity that’s tied to the CCP, and so, that’s why we are asking the DOJ to share with us the information that it’s gathered, and to give us a briefing on what it is doing and what can be done to try and rectify this problem.”

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