KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — Deputies stumbled into a significant illegal marijuana operation in southern Oregon this week, finding an amount of marijuana with a street value conservatively estimated at more than $100 million, authorities said.
A 27,000-square-foot potato shed south of Klamath Falls was filled with marijuana in various stages of processing, the Herald and News reported. Authorities said marijuana was drying in giant strands that stretched from the roof to the floor, buds had been pruned and stuffed into 40-pound bags, hundreds of those bags were stacked against a wall, and years of discarded marijuana waste was in piles ready for disposal.
Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber said Friday he had never seen anything like it in 30 years of police work. It was found Wednesday after someone called in possible smoke in the area.
Arriving deputies noticed the back of a nearby building was open and they could clearly see marijuana inside, Kaber said.
“Our deputies showed up and they saw what they saw and they couldn’t unsee it,” Kaber said.
The Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant Thursday. People on site at the time were interviewed but not arrested. Inside the building, cots were set up where workers slept.
After securing the area and identifying some of the people on the premises, officers documented the property. And then a number of county agencies began removing the marijuana and cleaning up, which will take days and possibly weeks.
The search at the potato shed led detectives to two other grow operations that were linked to the processing facility, where they found more marijuana and processing equipment, the sheriff said. The three sites were linked by land ownership, lease agreements and by heavy equipment rentals to multiple locations taken out under a single name, Kaber said.
No weapons or cash was found at any of the locations.
Many illegal grows in the county are operating on property owned by local landowners, who tend to lease their property to strangers who claim they want to grow legal hemp. In reality, people growing illegally are getting a good price for a place to grow at the expense of the landowner, who assumes most of the risk, the sheriff said.
The grows often require a staggering amount of water, stolen from local wells and rivers, in order to feed the crops. The issue has plagued many Klamath County residents, in addition to the smell and sometimes threats of violence from those operating and protecting the grows.