US police have arrested at least 50 Chinese nationals and seized US$80 million worth of marijuana plants in a crackdown on a massive illegal growing operation in Washington state, according to local media reports.
Prosecutors suspect the growers in the northwestern US state operated as a syndicate that sold products to east coast cities such as New York, where prices are much higher than on the west coast, the Washington-based Chinook Observer newspaper reported on Monday.
About 35,000 plants valued at US$80 million and more than 22kg of processed cannabis were seized in the raid. Police also confiscated 26 vehicles and more than US$400,000 in cash and gold, the report said.
It is the biggest crackdown on illegal marijuana growing in the history of Washington state’s Grays Harbor county, police told Seattle-based radio station Komonews.
A county drug task force served search warrants at about 50 locations, including 38 in Grays Harbor, eight in King county and four in Thurston county.
The suspects all were Chinese nationals, Komonews said.
States that have made cannabis legal are magnets for Chinese gangs that set up illegal plant-growing operations to sell processed cannabis across the US.
The past few years have seen police in Colorado and California crack down on major illegal operations run by Chinese nationals, Komonews said.
Washington legalised the growing and selling of recreational cannabis in 2012, joining California, Colorado, Oregon and Nevada as US west coast states that have either already embraced legal marijuana or are about to.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts and Maine in the eastern US expanded the legalising of marijuana to include recreational use in November.
In such states the cannabis industry is heavily regulated,