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California Authorities Seize 27,000 Cannabis Plants in 4-Day Calaveras Raid

August 4, 2017
Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio speaks at a Thursday, Aug. 3 news conference about a multiday raid of cannabis farms his office conducted. Calaveras Sheriff officers seized more than 27,000 marijuana plants and made 35 arrests. (Kathleen Ronayne/AP)
SAN ANDREAS, Calif. (AP) — More than 27,000 marijuana plants were seized and 35 people arrested in a series of raids in a California county that is trying to crack down on illegal grows as the state prepares to become the world’s largest marijuana marketplace when recreational cannnabis is legalized next year.

The crackdown on more than a dozen farms occurred over four days in different parts of Calaveras County, southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said Thursday it was the largest series of raids in county history.

“I want to tell all of the illegal growers that decide to come to Calaveras County: Don’t come, you’re not welcome and we will come for you,” DiBasilio said at a news conference.

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The National Guard, as well as the district attorney’s office, the California Highway Patrol and state and county environmental offices were involved in the operation, which took six months of planning, DiBasilio said.

The seized marijuana is taken to a local landfill where it is buried about eight feet under the ground, DiBasilio said.

One of the targeted farms, where more than 6,000 plants were seized, is affiliated with the same Rastafarian Church linked to a Yuba County cannabis farm that on Tuesday was the scene of a police shootout. A farmworker there shot two deputies after running into a nearby home and later was found dead inside.

The Calaveras County sheriff’s office made five arrests without incident at the farm in Heiser Canyon on Wednesday, DiBasilio said. The Calaveras farm was targeted before Tuesday’s shooting.

Heidi Lepp, the leader of Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church, said the Heiser Canyon farm is part of her network of churches, which use marijuana as their sacrament. She claims the farms that grow cannabis for the church have a religious exemption allowing such cultivation, but state law does not provide such exceptions.

DiBasilio said the Heiser Canyon farm was an illegal grow. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for two decades and he said last year the farm tried to get a license to allow it to grow cannabis but was turned down.

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DiBasilio said Lepp called the sheriff’s office on Wednesday and said the farm was affiliated with her church and could not be raided. The workers arrested at the farm said they did not know who they were working for, he said.

Lepp’s husband, Charles Lepp, said they have no ownership of the property.

“We are the head of the church, and Heidi does all she can to protect the people that belong to the church,” he said.

The raids began with 23 search warrants and resulted in 25 tons of marijuana being eradicated, authorities said. Eleven firearms and $7,000 in cash were also seized. In addition to illegally growing weed, the farms in question committed multiple environmental violations, officials said. The cases are now in the hands of the district attorney’s office.

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The seized marijuana is taken to a local landfill where it is buried about eight feet under the ground, DiBasilio said.

Calaveras County officials are considering banning commercial marijuana growing altogether, despite the statewide legalization that begins Jan. 1.

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  • Alex Wirtes

    Fuckin pigs

  • Bicycle Pete

    I wish you could stop using the racist term, “marijuana,” and stick to cannabis. As to the raids, if they don’t have the legal paperwork, hiding behind a church isn’t the answer. Cannabis is coming into its own, and we must do this the right. But please, stop saying the “M” word.

    • Fun Please

      AA is modern day Jim Crow law. How do you feel about that institutional systemic racist misandry?

    • Heidi Grossman

      I am not hiding behind anything Cannabis is in my DNA and yours. My creator calls upon me to grow and help others do the same.

  • lovingc

    Does anybody in Calaveras county feel safer now? Or do they want all of the money wasted on these raids back? LEO’s need to use their forces and money wiser. Of course I’m sure all of the murders, rapes, and robberies have all been solved first? No? The chief needs to be busted back to foot patrol.

  • FlunkedAgain

    “” The seized marijuana is taken to a local landfill where it is buried about eight feet under the ground, DiBasilio said.””

    That’s the ticket. Hide it where it will never be found.

    If Mark Twain were still alive, he could write about The Marijuana Miners of Calaveras County. The story of modern day adventurers who equipped with only a shovel, a nose, and a dream seek to find veins of green gold hidden beneath the surface of a local landfill. Even if they ban commercial marijuana growing, they can’t ban commercial marijuana mining. Who wouldn’t want to find 50,000 pounds of marijuana. That’s $264,000,000 worth of green gold, yep $264 Million. The avg per ounce in the US is about $330 according to High Times. That’s $5,280 per pound.

    So grab a shovel and head to the mine. The Green Gold Rush is on. As the song goes; “you load 16 tons and what do you get?” , $168,960,000.

  • Brian Prewett

    Just like the mob… Make up some false charges to make people think they owe them a fee or favor… It was called Racketeering by law enforcement. Is Marijuana deadly and dangerous, with no medicinal value? If it’s not… what the law enforcement agencies are doing is pure Racketeering. That’s the Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth.

  • Billie Jean Washburn

    How sad that heroin, crack, krokodil, flakka, meth and more is eating up our families right before our eyes and all those that are paid to ‘protect and serve’ have found time to do is go after the PEACE PIPE. What an ungodly choice.

  • Heidi Grossman

    I sued him for lying and for breaking the law. Good luck to you Sheriff I will see you in court.

  • b1nd3r

    shit stain is honestly the best description of these people. great fake policing

  • cactusjim420

    25 tons is NOT the real weight of useable cannabis, that was the fresh plant weight. Actual weight of salable buds would be about 1500 pounds. Not all that much in reality.