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Police in California’s famed Emerald Triangle executed a series of raids in June that uprooted more than 15,000 marijuana plants.

Police Burning MarijuanaSheriff’s deputies from three counties conducted the raids in late June, saying they found roughly 15,300 cannabis plants in varying stages of maturity, according to a local newspaper. Though not one of California’s largest marijuana busts, the operation destroyed a significant amount of cannabis.

Raids such as this have at most limited impact on the illicit marijuana market. The Emerald Triangle, which consists of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, is so saturated with illegal cannabis farms that it would take a massive military intervention to find them all.

The local police are trying, though. The investigation was announced June 24 and was expected to continue for several days.

The raid focused on several farms throughout the Emerald Triangle. The region, located along the Pacific Coast in mountainous Northern California, produces more marijuana than any other area in the United States. It grows most of the state’s cannabis, medical and otherwise, and supplies a large percentage of the nation’s black market.

Relaxed MMJ laws

Marijuana is legal only for medical use in California, though regulations are so loose it’s easy for non-patients to buy the drug on the medicinal market. Cannabis is decriminalized for recreation statewide, and full legalization is likely to arrive with the 2016 election, but police continue to target growers, sellers, and in some cases, patients.

The state adopted medical marijuana in 1996, the first place in the country to do so. Medical cannabis is now legal in 36 other states, while recreational sale, possession, and use are legal in four.

The Emerald Triangle, located about 200 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area, has been a major source of cannabis since shortly after MMJ was adopted. The region is frequently targeted by local police, sheriff’s deputies, and federal anti-drug agents.

Police continue to raid grow sites

Native American MarijuanaThe raids continue despite new federal laws designed to protect patients, retailers, and growers from legal interference. Local and federal agencies have largely ignored the law, refusing to drop their efforts to stamp out marijuana completely.

Sheriff’s deputies who carried out the June raids said they found evidence of environmental damage at the grow sites. Farmers were also possibly stealing water by diverting it to their plants, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Cannabis gardens have come under increasing scrutiny as critics say they use too much water and have worsened California’s epic drought. Marijuana plants require large amounts of water, though there is some debate over how much damage these farms are causing.

Officials have imposed the most drastic water restrictions in California history, aiming to cut use statewide by 25 percent. The rules affect legal cannabis growers but can be hard to enforce on illicit cultivators.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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