In the county’s biggest cannabis eradication raid ever — let alone since recreational pot became legal this year — a team of Sheriff’s deputies armed with weed whackers and other implements of agricultural destruction leveled 400,000 marijuana plants at an illegal growing operation in Santa Maria. “It was the most we’ve ever seen,” said Lt. Brian Olmstead. “It might be the biggest in the state.”
Olmstead said the grow was very professional — with drip irrigation and hoop houses — and located on the 2700 block of Telephone Road on fields recently planted with strawberries. Olmstead said the cannabis plants were set a couple hundred feet from the road, situated behind rows of strawberries. The owner, he said, is a strawberry grower, but Olmstead declined to release his name because no arrest was made. “We only release the identity once we’ve booked them,” Olmstead said.
There were so many plants — between two and 18 inches high — that Olmstead said it took two days to destroy them. Some were yanked out by the roots. Most were whacked. “It’s all fun and games when you’re flying over and dropping down from a helicopter,” he said, ”but once you cut down your first plant, it’s all manual labor.” Representatives from California’s Department of Fish & Wildlife also participated in the eradication effort.
Olmstead said the owner planted the cannabis plants before applying for the state permits required. The owner applied for the permit in October, Olmstead said, but planted in September. “Either you have a permit or you don’t,” he said. “And these guys definitely didn’t.” Commenting on the relative scale of the operation, Olmstead noted that deputies had eradicated about 100,000 plants from backcountry grows on Forest Service land, but those were multiple operations. Other than that, he said, most of the eradications ranged in size from 10,000 to 30,000 plants. No arrests have yet to be filed for any of the illegal operations uncovered thus far.