Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office detectives have busted a massive illegal marijuana grow in Alfalfa spearheaded by a Mexican drug cartel.
The facility was being used to grow marijuana for commercial distribution across the United States, said Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp.
After a lengthy investigation, detectives with the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team and Sheriff’s Office SWAT team executed a search warrant Thursday on the 30-acre property near Dodds Road and Alfalfa Market Road.
They found 49 greenhouses with more than 9,200 marijuana plants in various stages of growth. Detectives also discovered 2,800 lbs. of processed marijuana, two pistols and an AR-15 rifle.
Vander Kamp said the investigation revealed the operation was operated by and affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel trying to cultivate the marijuana for sale throught the U.S. commercially.
Most of the workers on the farm are Mexican nationals and trafficked involuntarily into the U.S. to work in the illegal pot trade, Vander Kamp said.
He said the laborers were found living in primitive wooden structures and dome tents with limited clean water and they were dumping wastewater directly into the soil.
About 21 people were detained and later released by detectives at the scene, Vander Kamp said.
Some of the workers ran into the neighboring property but offered no resistance when contacted by detectives.
Several suspects, both foreign and domestic, have been identified, Vander Kamp said.
One person was arrested at the scene and released with a citation to appear in court.
Additional arrests are expected once the follow-up investigation is complete, he said.
The possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal for recreational use in Oregon.
However, large, unlicensed marijuana operations remain illegal.
Due to these operations being unregulated, they pose dangers to the public and environment, Vander Kamp said.
The Alfalfa community and surrounding areas in Deschutes County have been struggling with consistent groundwater sources.
Since the beginning of DCIME, investigators have found illegal marijuana grows diverted or stolen significant water from nearby homes, commercial farms, or directly from pumps connected to underground sources in the arid central Oregon high desert.
This particular grow site used underground water and maintained a complex watering system that supplied several on-site 15,000-20,000 gallon cisterns, he said.
Additionally, Illegal marijuana farms, including this one, often use pesticides and insecticides that threaten residential water supplies and endanger the end user.
Illegal marijuana grows facilities have a very high electrical demand due to the lights, fans, and other equipment used.
This grow site used jerry-rigged copper wire, extension cords, and power strips as permanent exterior wiring for processing equipment, lighting, fans, etc. Overloaded electrical wiring has caused fires in other marijuana grow facilities, Vander Kamp said.
The Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement (DCIME) program is a partnership between the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, the Bend Police Department, and the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office to address illegal marijuana activity in Deschutes County.
DCIME Detectives were assisted by the Deschutes County Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team, Bend Police Department, Redmond Police Department, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, Crook County Sheriff’s Office and the Alfalfa Fire Department, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration with the investigation, eradication, and dismantling of this site.