The four-city police raid of five homes converted into marijuana grow houses that was made possible by a tip from a concerned neighbor near Manteca’s Joshua Cowell School yielded pot with a wholesale value of $53.2 million.
Manteca Police Detective Sgt. Chris Mraz noted the coordinated raids by four departments in Manteca, San Jose, Elk Grove and Modesto orchestrated after local police started investigating a suspected grow house in the 1900 block of Inderbitzen Way turned up 13,300 pounds — or almost seven tons — of illegal marijuana. Authorities obtained the dollar amount using the going street value of marijuana that is between $200 and $300 an ounce.
City leaders last month took steps to end the legal growing of medical marijuana in Manteca by those with legitimate medical marijuana cards. Police Chief Nick Obligacion said at the time that he expected the decision to make it easier for police to zero in on major illegal grows such as the one on Thursday to help reduce violent crime related to marijuana growing in Manteca that played a role in three gun deaths over the past four years.
Since the council supported the chief’s recommendation, two grow houses have been taken down in Manteca by police yielding almost 1,900 marijuana plants.
As of Thursday, it is now illegal to grow pot for any reason in Manteca even if someone has a medicinal pot card. Those with the cards, however, will be able to still use marijuana.
They won’t, however, be able to use a service to deliver marijuana to them from legal medical marijuana dispensaries in other cities. They can pick it up themselves or have a caretaker do it for them. The same holds true for Stockton, Lathrop, Ripon, and San Joaquin County.
Those who think they can get around the caretaker requirement by declaring a medical marijuana service that is illegal everywhere in California currently to pick it up instead are in for a surprise.
Mraz has noted the law’s language is explicit.
“Caretakers have to feed you, take care of you,” Mraz said last month. He added those that run marijuana delivery services “are called drug dealers.”
Police have indicated almost all of the illegal large grow houses — including a warehouse in Spreckels Park — that were busted in 2015 were supplying the Bay Area medicinal marijuana dispensary market. Last year alone Manteca Police seized 7,800 pounds of marijuana valued at $15.6 million.
A January pot grow house police raided in the 1100 block of Primavera Avenue plus the pot grow house by Cowell School pushed illegal pot seizures in Manteca during the past seven months past the $20 million mark.
Arrested on Thursday in Manteca was Binh V. Lam, 38, of San Jose for violations of marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, operating a drug house, and criminal conspiracy.
Also arrested was Nga T. Dang, 42, of San Jose for possession of methamphetamine precursors, being a felon in possession of a firearm, armed in the commission of drug crimes, possession of stolen property, marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, operating a drug house, and criminal conspiracy.
In the Modesto operation Noel M. Vaca, 34, was arrested for violations including marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, criminal conspiracy, armed during drug crimes and possession of stolen property.
Also in Modesto Uriel M. Castro, 39, was arrested for marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, being armed during drug crimes, theft of utilities, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of stolen property and criminal conspiracy.
Thuylan T. Huynh, 35, of San Jose was arrested for numerous violations including marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, operating a drug house and criminal conspiracy.
All five suspects are scheduled to appear in the Manteca Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court on Monday at 1:30 p.m.