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America’s Biggest Cannabis Busts

Demand for cannabis is high and enforcement of prohibition is stronger than ever, leading to some truly massive busts.

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In October 2015, federal agents seized 20,000 cannabis plants, 700 pounds of dried marijuana and dozens of firearms from an illegal cannabis grow in the Pike National Forest. Both because the grow was unlicensed and because it was located on federal land, where cannabis remains illegal, it constituted one of the largest pot busts of all time despite the fact that it took place in a state where it’s nominally legal. Without having gone through the proper channels to create their grow, the people responsible for the Pike Forest operation had placed the forest itself in danger, and their arrests marked both a victory for law enforcement and for the legal cannabis business in Colorado. But how does the incident compare in size to some of the other biggest cannabis busts in history?

The Great Green North

BC Bud, British Columbia’s answer to the rest of the world’s so-called high-quality cannabis, is world renowned. Its demand is widespread, and in 2009 $150 million in valuable cannabis was seized nearly 2,500 miles away in Queens, New York. Grown in hydroponic operations in British Columbia and driven across country hidden in secret compartments in cars, the bust was one of the NYPD’s largest-ever cannabis seizures.

Billions and Billions Served

The same year that $150 million in west coast cannabis made its way across the country to Queens, Fresno County, California saw more than six times that seized without moving it a mile. "Operation Save Our Sierra," as the bust was known, resulted in 82 arrests and the seizure of more than $1 billion in cannabis. "Fresno County is roughly the size of Connecticut, and the drug traffickers target these areas because they know there is not that significant of a law-enforcement presence," a Fresno County Sheriff told CNN after the bust. "The chances of getting caught are slim."

Marijuana Mattresses

Taking contraband across international borders immediately adds a level of criminality to the entire enterprise that was not there before. That’s why even though billion dollar seizures have taken place, the largest ever border bust was for a total of 31,598 pounds of cannabis crossing the California/Mexico border in 2015. With a street value of just fewer than $19 million, the bust may pale in comparison to Fresno’s grow seizure, but to give a little perspective, the cannabis in question filled up the entirety of a box truck labelled “mattresses”.

Virginia is For Growers

When Washington D.C. voted to legalize adult use, two problems became immediately apparent. First, a significant portion of D.C. is on federal land, meaning cannabis would remain illegal on those premises. Second, the District is so relatively small that most of its population actually calls nearby Virginia home. Despite Washington D.C.’s relatively enlightened attitude, Virginia is among the most draconian states with regard to the War on Drugs. That’s why it was particularly surprising when in June 2015, law enforcement officers followed a crude train in Bull Mountain in Patrick County, Virginia, and seized 30,255 marijuana plants.

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