LANE COUNTY, Ore. — Fifteen people went in front of a federal judge Monday, facing federal drug charges. That after a law enforcement raided a marijuana growing operation in the Willamette National Forest.
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office says this is one of the largest marijuana grows they’ve ever found in the county. Sunday afternoon authorities went deep into the Willamette National Forest to remove marijuana plants worth millions of dollars.
At an elevation of more than 3,000 feet, in a completely remote area of the forest, 16 people spent the summer growing thousands of marijuana plants.
That was until a tip came in after someone discovered this marijuana growing on public land.
“According to the numbers we have 3,000 plants. 3,000 plants 2 to 3 pounds per plant you’re looking at about 10,000 pounds,” said Sgt. Steve French, Lane County Sheriff’s Office.
County, state and federal law enforcement agencies hiked deep into the remote forest to assess the situation and remove all of the plants.
“These grows were very well hidden from not only the highway down below, but also from above. If, the only way that you could see it was to get right down on it and it, it was a considerable hike getting there,” French said.
Investigators say not only were there 16 people growing marijuana in the forest. They also had living quarters at three different sites throughout the rugged terrain, equipped with food, beds and even batteries for charging cell phones.
A number of these suspects have a history of run-ins with the law and the sheriff’s office is trying to figure out if this marijuana grow has any relation to drug cartels.
“Multiple suspects have multiple deportations from the United States back to Mexico,” French said.
It’s unknown how long the sixteen people were growing marijuana in this area of Oregon, but the operation itself is what investigators call sophisticated.
“Multiple years. This is not the first year they’ve been in there. You could tell by the way that they had built the beds for the plants and also for the irrigation system. That had been in there for quite some time,” French said.
The men went in front of a Judge Monday morning and were charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, the penalty for which ranges from five to 40 years. Although the attorney on the case says with federal drug charges sentences could technically be less than the minimum sentence.
Although 16 people were originally arrested for this growing operation, only 15 have been charged.
Once police are finished with their investigation, botanists and environmentalists from the Willamette National Forest will go into the site to see if there were any environmental hazards left behind at the growing site.