Marijuana "Fortress" Busted By Police In California

By Keri Blakinger 12/18/17

The 35,000-plant operation could have churned out millions per month in leafy green smokeables, police estimated. 

medical marijuana grow house

The weed-busting warriors of San Bernardino police raided a marijuana “fortress” last week, seizing roughly 18,000 pounds of the green stuff. 

The four-story warehouse boasted fortified doors, surveillance cameras, a concrete wall and a 12-foot metal fence, all nestled away in plain sight in the middle of downtown. 

The 35,000-plant operation on E Street could have churned out millions per month in leafy green smokeables, police estimated. 

"In my 26 years, it was the biggest grow that I've ever seen," San Bernardino police Lt. Mike Madden said, according to the Associated Press. "There were all different rooms for different processes and hydration, filtration and ventilation. It was pretty extensive."

But it won’t necessarily net any criminal charges because recreational pot has been legal in The Golden State since Jan. 1. There’s a permitting system and state licensing required, though, and Stephanie Smith—who police say masterminded the marijuana operation—didn’t have the proper paperwork in order. 

“Marijuana has been legalized, but there are stringent requirements,” Madden said. “It’s not that you just get to set up shop where you want to set up.” 

Pot sellers have to pay fees, go through background checks and provide info about the building layout and business plan—and it’s all subject to approval by the city.

Authorities started investigating the once-abandoned warehouse after getting complaints from unhappy neighbors. And a $67,000 a month utility bill raised some eyebrows, too, according to KTLA.

When police busted in on Wednesday after two months of investigating, they found thousands of plants stacked side-by-side, basking under heat lamps and fed by irrigation systems.

In addition to the E Street property—an old Pac-Bell building on the same block as police headquarters—cops raided a warehouse on South Mountain view and a converted home on North D Street. SWAT teams simultaneously burst in at all three locations, according to the Los Angeles TV station.

Smith owns all three properties, which she bought with cash, according to police. Although she wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime, the 43-year-old mother was detained along with eight men who were working in the downtown warehouse.

If charges are filed, Smith would likely only face a misdemeanor, according to the local CBS affiliate

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.