Merced County Sheriff’s Department boasts more than 160 marijuana raids since January

Marijuana eradication efforts in Merced County continue to focus on large-scale trafficking operations, resulting in dozens of arrests and the destruction of thousands of dollars in plants and buds.

Since the beginning of the year, the Merced County Sheriff’s Tactical and Reconnaissance team has raided more than 160 locations.

Deputies have seized several million of dollars worth of marijuana plants, recovered more than 40 illegal firearms including assault rifles and other automatic weapons, and confiscated $65,000 in cash, the Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday.

Three homicides this year have been linked to marijuana-growing operations in Merced County, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Nearly half the trafficking operations raided this year have been tied to large-scale cartel operations based in Mexico, authorities said.

While statistical data from last year was not available, Sheriff’s Department officials said eradication efforts appear to have climbed this year, at least in partly because of a directive from Sheriff Mark Pazin to focus the STAR teams exclusively on marijuana seizures during the fall harvest season, authorities said.

Sheriff’s Department officials said that since the beginning of the harvest season, the agency has averaged nearly a dozen calls each week regarding marijuana-growing operations in rural areas of Merced County. More than 600 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of nearly $2 million were seized Friday from three locations in the 15000 block of Oak Road in Merced. No arrests were made, officials said.

The largest growing operation raided this year in Merced County was an outdoor garden with more than 15,000 plants hidden in a cornfield. It was discovered in August, authorities said.

The Sheriff’s Department said much of the marijuana grown in Merced County is being transported to dispensaries and other commercial operations in Washington state, where the typically black-market crop has been approved for recreational use.