Merced County sheriff’s deputies on Sunday seized firearms, methamphetamine and cash during five raids on the county’s west side – all of it, investigators said, tied to large-scale commercial marijuana gardens.
Deputies also uncovered a large hashish oil conversion laboratory at a home in the 17000 block of Plow Camp Road in Los Banos. Sometimes referred to has “honey oil,” the process of extracting the THC content from cannabis can create a highly dangerous risk of fire, officials have said.
Sgt. Ray Framstad said the lab raided Sunday was inside a wooden building on farm property, close to a home with children. A red wooden barn had also been converted into a makeshift “clone room,” where hundreds of small cannabis plants were found.
“One of the major problems we find with these commercial grows is the theft of utilities,” Framstad said. “They (rewire) electrical lines and it creates a big fire risk, especially in these types of buildings.”
Gabriel Hernandez Cruz, 29, of Mexico, was arrested at a home on Plow Camp Road and booked at the Merced County jail on suspicion of manufacturing hash oil and possession of a stolen firearm, deputies said.
Deputies on Sunday eradicated more than 1,100 marijuana plants from growers at five locations in and around Los Banos in Merced County.
Two warrants were served in the 12000 block of Santa Fe Grade near Dos Palos, along with raids in the the 1600 block of Grand Avenue in Volta, and the 21000 block of Stone Road and the Plow Camp Road location in Los Banos.
Sheriff’s investigators seized five firearms; about a half-ounce of methamphetamine and 10 pounds of trimmed marijuana buds; and an undisclosed amount of U.S. currency.
Framstad said many growers in Merced County are staying within the 12-plant limit allowed by the county’s marijuana ordinance.
“That alone has significantly cut down on the number of home invasion robberies and shootings we’ve seen so far this year,” Framstad said.
Deputies said the larger commercial operations create a variety of problems for residents living near them.
“We tend to find other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine,” Framstad said. “We find weapons, illegal firearms – and they’re a hazard not only because of the potential for (violent robberies), but the chemicals, utilities and water they waste are also a big problem.”
Framstad said wasted water is a particularly pressing concern during the four-year drought in California.
“The (Drug Enforcement Administration) has estimated it takes about 800 gallons of water per plant grown outdoors during the whole cycle,” he said. “You get these grows with hundreds of plants and that’s thousands and thousands of gallons of water that should be used for other purposes by other people.”
So far in 2015 during raids targeting commericial growers, deputies have seized more than 30,000 illegal marijuana plants; more than 625 pounds of clipped buds; more than 5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine; 2 pounds of cocaine; dozens of firearms, many of them illegally modified; and uncovered a methamphetamine laboratory.
“And all of it is tied to organized crime,” Framstad said. “These are not people who are using it for medicinal purposes.”