8 Crazy Stealth Marijuana Grows Get Busted
Laws regarding marijuana use, including the possession of plants, are changing rapidly. Yet there are still many places where growing any cannabis at all is illegal, and others where large operations are prohibited. Despite the legal threat, or perhaps due to it, many cannabis cultivators go to great lengths to conceal their grows. A stealth operation may be as small as one or two plants, or it could be a multi-million dollar set-up with thousands.
We’ve gathered together a few of our favorite stealth marijuana grows that just couldn’t quite keep their operations a secret. Here’s the story of eight crazy stealth grows and how they got busted.
1. Not-so-stealthy Cannabis Forest Found in Wealthy London Suburb
It was the smell that gave them away. On September 25th, 2015, London police were called to the wealthy borough of Kingston to investigate reports of a faint cannabis odor wafting through the neighborhood. Expecting a few marijuana plants or a small secret garden, they were surprised to discover a veritable forest of flowering marijuana plants. The grow included over 150 plants only a few short weeks away from harvest time.
Kingston borough Police Capitan Sara Henderson said, “The area these plants were growing on was the size of a football pitch, it looked like a small forest of Christmas trees and was complete with a gazebo.”
2. Massive Marijuana Farm Discovered in Railway Tunnel
This one is more than just a stealth grow. This was a highly planned, thoroughly developed marijuana farm.
Police responded to a tip and arrived at their location: old, abandoned railway tunnels. They broke through heavy steel doors to gain entrance. What did they find? Five grow rooms bursting with healthy cannabis plants and a drying room stuffed with curing marijuana. The value of the plants alone was estimated at over $3,315,000.
Four men were taken into custody during the bust, all of whom pled guilty to charges of growing and intending to distribute the marijuana. They were each sentenced to one to four years in prison.
3. NYC’s Largest Marijuana Complex Hidden Under Cherry Factory
Arthur Mondella ran the highly successful Dell’s Maraschino Cherry factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He also ran a highly successful cannabis growing operation out of the cherry factory’s basement. To all appearances, Mondella’s marijuana business had been in operation for some time. He had over 2500 square feet of growing space that was equipped to hold up to 1200 plants.
At the time of the bust, officers found 100 pounds of marijuana, several hundred thousand dollars and a fleet of fancy cars, including a Rolls Royce, Porsche and a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Mondella maintained an extensive library about cannabis growing which included a book on organized crime.
Indeed, the police believe Mondella may have had connections to the mob. Officers arrived on February 24th, 2015 to investigate alleged environmental violations at the Cherry Factory. How they became alerted to the secret marijuana farm is unclear. But as the police passed the fake wall and false shelves leading to the marijuana nursery, Mondella went into the restroom and shot himself. He left behind bewildered family and friends who could not imagine his involvement in such an endeavor. Officers have speculated that Mondella committed suicide because he was afraid the mob would punish him for getting busted.
4. Cannabis in a Corn Field: An Epidemic?
In 2006, an entomologist studying groups of insects which live in agricultural areas was making her way through a cornfield to check a glue trap when she stumbled upon five mature marijuana plants. They were eight feet tall, in full flower and apparently ready to harvest. The thick field of corn provided a perfect screen to hide the grow from the road, and the number of plants was small enough not to attract attention from the air.
The experience encouraged our entomologist to start interviewing farmers. To her surprise nearly all of them had experienced a similar discovery of clandestine cannabis plants in their corn fields.
It appears that growers across the country are taking advantage of the large, impersonal nature of industrial farming to sneak a stealth grow in on other people’s land. In Wisconsin alone between 2008 and 2012 over 45,800 plants were removed from state, tribal and national forest lands in nine cannabis busts, many from corn fields.
5. More than a Dispensary: Secret Grow Operation Busted in Medical Marijuana Dispensary
A Sun Valley, Idaho Medical Marijuana Dispensary was doing more than filling prescriptions. In August of 2015 officers discovered secret doors behind bookcases and hidden in the bathroom, which opened into grow rooms containing 1000 cannabis plants.
Four dispensary workers were arrested during the bust. Police expressed concerns about the high THC levels of the cannabis, which averaged 20-30%. They believe most of the marijuana grown at the dispensary made its way to L.A. to be sold on the streets.
6. Military Busts Record Breaking Cannabis Operation in Mexican Desert
A 300 acre marijuana plantation, the largest ever found, was busted by the Mexican military in the northern Baja Peninsula in July of 2011. The giant grow operation hid in plain sight, under the black tarpaulin commonly used by farmers in the area to protect crops from excessive heat and sunshine. In this case the heavy netting also muted the powerful odor of the plants.
Soldiers surprised nearly 60 workers who fled the fields when they arrived. The plantation had a house, bathrooms and other facilities for workers. Army general Alfonso Duarte estimated that growers could have harvested 120 tons of marijuana from the operation, a crop worth $160 million.
7. Prisoner Busted for Growing Marijuana in Jail
Mohammed Jalloh thought he discovered a novel way to get marijuana in prison- he would grow it himself. In 2009 Jalloh convinced guards at the British Verne Prison in Dorset to let him do a little gardening. He planted several cannabis seeds. As they grew he told the authorities that they were tomato plants. Shockingly he got away with his grow for five months before he finally got busted.
8. High Water Usage gets Marijuana Grow Busted
Tulare County, California is one of many areas suffering from the state’s severe drought. Water is valuable, rare and there are lots of rules dictating its use. Local residents of the Tulare town of Orosi became suspicious when they noticed that there was even less water than usual. The police were summoned to investigate claims of illegal water use.
On September 18th, 2015 they discovered 20 different stealth grow sites with a total of 3000 cannabis plants. The outdoor grows were using 15,000 gallons of water each day. The Sheriff’s office reports removing over half a million cannabis plants from illegal grow operations since January of 2014.