HASKELL COUNTY, Okla. — Several local and state agencies busted a multi-state illegal marijuana grow operation in Haskell County, Oklahoma on Wednesday. Law enforcement officers said it is a snapshot of years of foreign meddling in the Sooner State's medical marijuana market.
"We had already known about this operation, we just did not know the extent of what was going on there," Haskell County Sheriff Tim Turner said.
Sheriff Turner and his deputies worked with the United States DEA offices in Denver, Colorado and McAlester, Oklahoma to investigate the illegal grow.
Weilun Zhang and Cindy Zheng were charged with buying the rural property with black market money from marijuana sold in the Rocky Mountain State.
Agents seized about 10,000 marijuana plants at the site, roughly 100 pounds of processed marijuana, and a large amount of cash and firearms.
"If you want to grow marijuana legally and you want to and you want to keep the marijuana you grow inside the state of Oklahoma then that’s fine, but when you start exporting it we’re going to eradicate your marijuana and hopefully vacate you from your properties," Turner said.
"These can be very violent individuals who will go to extreme measures to protect their investment," Mark Woodward, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said.
The OBN assisted local and state agencies in the investigation. The drug enforcement agency looks into tips on illegal marijuana grows across Oklahoma.
A venture that starts with the farms and climbs to the top to catch the criminal organization behind it all. Woodward compares it to the drug cartel - one of the cannabis variety.
"They're tied together bringing them all back to one criminal source," he said. "The further you dig into the organization, (you find they) are ultimately working for one much larger criminal empire."
"They're able to do whatever they want to do," Turner said.
Turner believes the state's open market medical marijuana laws entice these criminals to expand into Oklahoma. A $3,000 license fee through the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority and OBN is the cheapest in the country.
Turner said it makes it easy for criminals to buy up properties, grow marijuana, sell it on the black market, and hide out in rural Oklahoma for authorities to try to track them down.
“We’re the Wild West in rural Oklahoma right now when it comes to marijuana," he said.
OMMA is beefing up its enforcement to become more effective at catching criminals. It is hiring 60 more field inspectors, this year, and inspecting businesses more frequently.
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