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The valley elderberry longhorn beetle is a rare sight these days along the banks of the Stanislaus River.
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A number of houses in Manteca and one in Lathrop were raided on Wednesday as part of an extensive network after it was determined that they were being used to illegally grow marijuana.

According to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, a total of 20 search warrants were executed throughout San Joaquin after an exhaustive 6-month investigation determined that nearly two dozen residences were involved in the illegal cultivation operation.

Multiple houses in Manteca were included in the raid, as was one house in Lathrop.

While cannabis is legal to possess, purchase, and grow for personal use under California law, large-scale growing operations require permitting and state oversight and the houses that were raided on Wednesday did not have the requisite documentation. At least several were believed to be powered by stolen electricity that was accessed by bypassing the residential meters.

One of the homes that was raided in Manteca was near both Brock Elliott Elementary School and Sierra High School. Neighbors reported seeing the windows of the house boarded up and electrical conduit running throughout the residence.

Because of the high cost of running indoor grow lights capable of producing the high-quality cannabis that was being cultivated, operations like the ones targeted often crudely bypass the PG&E electrical paneling installed in homes to measure the amount of electricity being used – which can be a massive fire hazard when coupled with the temperature of the lights inside of a building never intended to be used to grow plants and in close proximity to inhabited homes.

Because of the size of the operation multiple jurisdictions were involved in the operation on Wednesday including the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office – which operates the county’s Metro drug task force – as well as the Stockton, Manteca, Lodi, Lathrop, and Escalon Police Departments, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, San Joaquin County Probation, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Highway Patrol, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

No additional information about who may have been responsible for orchestrating the network of homes or how they were connected was released by authorities, but instances of organized crime syndicates from the Bay Area using the more-affordable housing options in the Central Valley to cultivate marijuana have been prevalent over the years.

While California was the first state in the country to legalize marijuana for medicinal use and one of the first to approve recreational sales, the high cost associated with legitimacy and the quality control requirements imposed by the state for safety reasons means that the black market for marijuana has not gone away despite readily-available product from dispensaries across the state.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.