State drug authorities go after illegal marijuana operations, destroy 80,000 plants
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) said Thursday that it's "investigating and dismantling" criminal organizations operating within the state’s medical marijuana program.
Over the past 2 weeks, OBN has served search warrants at nearly a dozen marijuana farms across Oklahoma. Agency spokesman Mark Woodward said it's another phase in OBN’s on-going focus to aggressively target criminals hiding within the state’s medical marijuana program.
For over 2 years, he said, OBN has identified numerous individuals and organizations that have moved to Oklahoma from out of state and used fraudulent business structures and so-called ‘ghost owners’ to obtain their Oklahoma Medical Marijuana licenses.
Woodward said the criminals try to blend into the state's Medical Marijuana program while trafficking marijuana onto the illicit market around the U.S., laundering money and moving millions of dollars in illicit drug proceeds overseas.
Ten search warrants have been served by OBN on marijuana cultivation businesses and one residential location in Canadian, Cleveland, Garvin, Kay, Okfuskee, Payne, Pontotoc and Seminole counties between Sept. 27 and Oct. 7.
A total of 79,157 illegally cultivated plants were seized, along with 3,139 pounds of processed marijuana and 16 firearms. So far, 20 people have been arrested with more arrests expected as these investigations continue, the agency said.
Woodward says the targets of these investigations face a variety of charges including drug trafficking, aggravated manufacturing, unlawful cultivation and acquiring proceeds from drug activity.
“As these investigations continue across Oklahoma, we plan to focus on criminal growers and business owners, as well as the entities that helped facilitate the fraudulent documentation allowing these criminal organizations to get an Oklahoma Medical Marijuana license," Woodward said.
OBN Director Donnie Anderson said more "large-scale law enforcement operations" are planned as his agency continues to investigate criminal cultivators around the state.
“We're making it very clear that Oklahoma is not a safe harbor for criminals who think they can hide behind a Medical Marijuana license," he said.
OBN was assisted by numerous sheriff’s and police departments, drug task force officers, county commissioners and county workers.
Anderson said he's particularly grateful to the Oklahoma National Guard which provided personnel and heavy equipment to assist with the eradication and disposal of plants during the operations.
“Their equipment and personnel save us time and effort that enables OBN to continue investigations that will have a positive impact on Oklahoma,” Anderson said.