Major marijuana bust in Madera County

September 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
At a critical time in the season, Madera County sheriffs teamed with federal agents Wednesday for a major marijuana bust.

The bust is part of a Valley-wide effort known as Operation Mercury -- where county sheriffs use federal laws -- and some federal agents -- to get rid of large marijuana grows.

Madera County Sheriff John Anderson grabbed a machete and led by example as his deputies destroyed a summer of work by pot farmers in the Raymond area.

The property is gated and our cameras weren't allowed inside, but the sheriff's office shared their video with Action News and let us see the plants before they were destroyed.

In the video, take a look at their haul. This is all from one field. It's about 2000 plants' worth. Each of these plants holding about 10-15 pounds of marijuana.

Sheriff Anderson says these big bushy plants are different from the marijuana he's typically seen -- with at least five times the usual yield from taller, skinnier plants.

Neighbors tell us they didn't know about the giant pot grow down the road, but it didn't come as a shock to see sheriffs driving onto the property for the third time in three years.

"I'm not surprised," said James Wells, who lives about five houses away. "There's been problems up in this area."

But these growers were apparently trying to operate legally under California state law. Just inside the gate to the property, we saw signs identifying the place as a non-profit called "The Herbrary." And deputies eradicating the marijuana saw doctors' recommendations posted by the bushes.

"Probably every 50 feet or so there was a sign saying they were permitted 99 plants," said Sheriff Anderson. "However, federal law trumps that. They're not allowed any plants under federal law."

The Madera County raid is one of dozens under the auspices of Operation Mercury. By bringing along at least one federal agent and citing federal law, local law enforcement are superseding state law to stop large grows. Medical marijuana supporters say it's a slippery slope.

"If you take marijuana out of those statements and you substitute in something else, most people would be appalled that state's rights have gone out the window that much," said attorney Brenda Linder, who has represented the officers of several medical marijuana collectives.

Deputies found three men and three guns on the property. The men are under arrest, but so far, they're not facing any charges -- federal or otherwise.


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