Nearly 16,000 illegal marijuana plants netted in multi-agency operation north of RiflePosted by On

Illegally grown marijuana is seen drying and curing at a grow site north of Rifle. In total, clusters of five sites on public and private land were hit during the operation.
Peter Baumann / Post Independent

Thousands of illegally grown marijuana plants valued on the black market at more than $7.5 million were destroyed and six arrested during a multi-agency operation north of Rifle on Tuesday.

The grow bust netted nearly 16,000 individual marijuana plants over five sites on a mixture of public and private land northwest of Rifle Gap Reservoir, said Steven Knight, DEA resident agent in charge. 

“There have been bigger (illegal grows) but in Colorado that’s a pretty big one,” he said. “That’s the biggest one I know of this year.”

Law enforcement officers hike past a cleared marijuana field north of Rifle on Tuesday afternoon. The operation included numerous agencies: DEA, FBI, ATF, TRIDENT, Western Colorado Drug Task Force, Seventh Judicial Drug Task Force, Homeland Security, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado National Guard, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and Rifle Police Department.
Peter Baumann / Post Independent

Each plant is capable of producing roughly one pound of finished product per growing cycle. With an estimated black market value of $500-$700, the bust diverted millions of dollars from the illicit drug market.

The six individuals arrested were all Hispanic males. Their citizenship status was not immediately clear but they will face manufacturing with intent to distribute charges and possibly others from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. No firearms were recovered in the operation.

“If any of those cooperate and give us information, we’ll build upon that,” Knight said of the arrested individuals. “And there’s usually some type of electronic evidence in the grows that we could exploit and determine who else is behind it.”

Dozens of agencies partnered together on the operation, which began in the early morning hours Tuesday and continued well into Wednesday.

“It’s hard work, it’s labor-intensive, it’s a big operation and it takes a lot of people to do it,” Knight said. “There’s no one agency that could have done that. It took a major team of all the state, federal and local offices and agencies together.”

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