Thousands of pounds of clipped marijuana buds were seized Wednesday from a warehouse in Livingston, an operation authorities described as "a large-scale business with clear ties to organized crime."
Sheriff Vern Warnke said more than 10,300 pounds of trimmed marijuana plants were confiscated around 7 a.m. from a warehouse on Industrial Way in Livingston. A large moving van parked near the warehouse was loaded with more than 1,000 pounds of buds, which the sheriff described as street-ready "finished product."
Investigators believe those running the growing operation planned to convert the marijuana into oil, sometimes called "honey oil" but law enforcement.
No arrests were made Wednesday but Warnke said investigators have identified numerous suspects. He declined to elaborate.
Deputies are investigating the case along with the Livingston Police Department.
Warnke estimated the street-value of the marijuana seized at "easily" more than $1 million.
Wednesday's bust was linked to another large marijuana operation in Ballico that deputies raided in May.
Deputies on May 18 seized more than 3,500 plants and more than 150 pounds of buds from two black market greenhouses on East Avenue in the unincorporated community of Ballico in Merced County.
Warnke said Wednesday's raid of marijuana-related crime in Merced County climbing since cannabis was "legalized" in California.
"The way to keep it legal is to keep to your six plants per parcel, grow it inside and don't sell it - that's how it's legal," Warnke said.
The sheriff said cartel operations like the one raided Wednesday fund street gangs, foster violence in Merced County and "generally bring down the quality-of-life in our community."
"You get the drug foot traffic in neighborhoods, the gun violence and neighbors have to deal with the smell and that's one of the quality-of-life issues," the sheriff said Wednesday.
Warnke has been a longtime critic of marijuana-related operations, saying the violence associated with them, including homicides in Merced County, create public safety problems that haven't changed since California legalized recreational use last year.
Anyone with information regarding Wednesday’s raid or other marijuana-related crime is asked to contact the Sheriff's Office at 209-385-7445. Tips are confidential and callers may remain anonymous.