The San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Department made its second biggest bud bust of the summer on Aug. 9 when it eradicated a gigantic garden on Toro Creek Road near Atascadero.
Though officers were able to seize 3,667 cannabis plants, they were unable to apprehend the three suspects who allegedly cared for and guarded the illegal outdoor grow operation. According to Sgt. Brian Hascall of the SLO County Sheriff's Department, the suspects were able to evade arrest when they fled on foot through the steep, rocky, rural terrain. All three are still at large.
Hascall said that officers found evidence at the grow site that indicated the suspects were part of a Mexican criminal enterprise. According to the sergeant, the ventures send workers up to SLO County to set up, tend, and protect marijuana gardens. Once the cannabis is harvested, the growers are responsible for selling the goods. The proceeds are then shipped back to Mexico and are invested into "super labs" to produce methamphetamines, which are then shipped back across the border for sale.
Deputies first discovered the massive grow site during the week of July 29. In an attempt to catch the garden's caregivers at the site, officers held the area under surveillance for several weeks.
"The whole idea is to get the plants before they're harvested and catch whoever is watching the grow," Hascall said. "That's why we timed it the way we did."
When they felt the timing was right, a dozen SLO narcotics detectives teamed up with U.S. Forest Service rangers to bring down the hefty hemp garden.
At the grow site, officers found a loaded .357 magnum, a campground, scales, and dried marijuana that had been weighed and packaged.
Hascall said that he expects to discover more cannabis gardens as marijuana season, which runs from June to October, continues.
The biggest pot plant bust of the year took place on July 6, when officers seized more than 61,000 marijuana plants in an outdoor grow operation just east of Twitchell Reservoir on Highway 166.