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Washington is still in the process of investigating a major illegal grow operation that was busted late November. The massive operation was conducted by Chinese nationals with ties to Chinese organized crime, The Chronicle reports.

Raids were conducted in Grays Harbor, King and Thurston counties. The 50 arrest warrants  served resulted in 44 arrests. Chinese nationals with ties to the Chinese mafia bought houses in cash that we’re tuned into illegal grows.

These raids are suspected to be a part of an illegal pot pipeline operating along the west coast from California to Washington. The raid also resulted in seizure of over $400,000 in cash and gold. Numerous firearms and over 32,000 weed plants were confiscated. The total worth of everything confiscated is around $80 million.

Raids in California and Colorado have also been connected to Chinese organized crime. Veteran Asian gang investigator Thomas Yu of the Los Angeles Police Department describes these schemes as “organized ad hoc enterprises, run by businessmen. They are in it for the profit,” Yu said.

Washington raids

An illegal marijuana grow busted in Lewis County. The photo was provided by the Centralia Police Department. PC: The Chronicle

Many of the people arrested in the operation were lured here on false pretenses of working in the recreational cannabis industry, but we’re essentially turned into “indentured servants,” according to The Chronicle. Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott views this as a clear form of human trafficking. Together with the FBI, they plan on helping the workers transition back into society, these workers are clearly victims in a much larger scheme.

There are several reasons why the black market pipeline is still thriving in states with regulated cannabis markets. Incredibly high taxes are one factor, The Washington Post reports. Another factor is that legal markets create a surplus of product. This surplus can be sold in pot-prohibited states for higher prices if the demand is high, or at lower prices to undercut the legal market. The Colorado Attorney General speculates that legalization will not reduce crime and that states with legal weed markets give cover to their black market counterparts, USA Today reports.

Legalized cannabis is already reducing crime inherently. The criminal justice system isn’t burdened by small time drug offenders. And the massive tax profits rolling is funneled to state and local governments, who use a majority of it to pay for law enforcement and other vital state programs like medicaid, KUOW reports.

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