Police are arresting large numbers of Chinese nationals in raids on illegal marijuana operations in California, Colorado and other states, raising questions about who is financing these grow houses and recruiting the immigrants to tend them.
In one obtained by McClatchy, money from a southern China bank account was transferred to California to pay for down payments on homes that later become grow houses, suggesting that some investors in China are putting money into the illicit U.S. marijuana market.
“These are sophisticated operations,” said Thomas Yu, a longtime Asian gang investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “When we hear about Asian gangs, we think about young guys doing drive-by shootings. This isn’t like that. These are organized ad hoc enterprises, run by businessmen. They are in it for the profit.”
In and around Sacramento, police have arrested numerous Chinese suspects in recent raids on indoor pot farms. But raids have also taken place in more far-flung locations, such as Garfield County in Colorado’s northwest corner.
Last year, Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario and his deputies descended on an illegal marijuana farm, arresting 14 suspects. To Vallario’s surprise, all 14 were Chinese nationals.
Vallario and other law enforcement officials are quick to note that people from many backgrounds — U.S. citizens, Mexicans, Russians — are involved in the illegal marijuana trade.
“We’ve had nationals from all over coming to this part of Colorado,” he said. “There are grow houses popping up in every neighborhood.”
But in recent years, Chinese operators seem to be expanding their reach:
- In three separate raids in September, authorities in California’s Yolo County and the cities of Roseville and Elk Grove arrested in raids on marijuana grow houses.
- In a case filed in U.S. District Court in July, prosecutors allege that 10 Chinese suspects with out-of-state driver’s licenses were growing marijuana inside nine Sacramento-area homes. More than 7,700 plants were seized.
- North of Sacramento, Yuba County sheriffs — some U.S. citizens and some with Chinese passports — in three marijuana busts between March and May. Those raids hauled in 8,000 plants, six firearms and thousands of dollars in U.S. currency, according to the county, which says it has turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
- In July, a federal jury in Nevada , Jianguo Han, on charges of running a large-scale marijuana operation in two Las Vegas houses. A month earlier, Colorado and 69 other defendants. They are accused of participating in what Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman called “the largest illegal marijuana trafficking ring” since the state legalized the drug in 2015.
Published: November 20, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News