The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office on Monday afternoon announced the seizure of a large marijuana growing operation located last week on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
More than 24,000 plants, with a value investigators estimated at more than $60 million, were found Wednesday in two locations on the west end of the tribal lands.
“This was a very large grow,” Sheriff Craig Thayer said. “These were the largest plant counts and dollar values in recent Stevens County history.”
Thayer said the announcement of the bust was withheld for several days for officer safety and to preserve the integrity of the investigation, which included the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Washington State Patrol, Spokane Tribal Police, the National Park Service and the U.S. Border Patrol.
“So many of these very large grows are tied to drug trafficking organizations,” Thayer said. “Very often these organizations arm the growers, and so they are a risk not only to law enforcement … but for average citizens who happen upon these locations.”
The bust was the latest of a continuing effort to search for marijuana plants on tribal, state and federal lands, he said. It’s part of the same operation that found marijuana plants on seven leased vineyards this summer in the Yakima Valley.
In this case, about 7,614 plants were located on the west end of the operation. Another location containing 16,475 plants was found about a mile and a half from the first, Thayer said.
“These were in wooded areas in remote, steep terrain,” Thayer said. “They had developed natural water sources.”
Detectives used helicopters to haul out bundles of plants, which were located far off the closest logging roads. While investigators found evidence of growers tending the illegal crops, no suspects were at the sites at the time of the raids.
No arrests have been made, but Thayer said the investigation is continuing.
Officials estimated each plant would net about $2,500 when sold on the street. They multiplied the number of plants by that dollar figure to reach the estimated street value of more than $60 million.
“It’s somewhat of a rough calculation,” he said. The plants “were to the point that they were ready for harvest.”
Thayer indicated that investigators believe the plants were linked to drug trafficking operations controlled by Mexican drug cartels, but he said he could not discuss the evidence that leads them to that conclusion.
“They have pipelines in the U.S.,” he said. “It can virtually go anywhere.”
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