Bay Area cannabis grows linked to Chinese organized crime

Bay Area cannabis grows linked to Chinese organized crime

Lester Black, SFGATE

March 23, 2023

Overseas Chinese organized crime groups are behind many of the illegal cannabis operations in Northern California, officials say.

“The [California Department of Cannabis Control] has reason to believe that Chinese triads have been participating in illegal cannabis cultivation for several years in Northern California,” David Hafner, a DCC spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. (“Triads” is a term used for specific organized crime groups that have a long history in China and have been caught trafficking drugs around the world.)

Hafner declined to provide more details about the connections between Chinese organized crime groups and illegal cannabis grows in California. A recent Politico story found that Chinese involvement in American cannabis cultivation has recently grown. Law enforcement in Oklahoma told Politico that 75% of the illegal pot farms they’ve shut down are connected to “Chinese investors and Chinese organized crime.”

Hafner confirmed that the DCC believes an Antioch cannabis growing operation raided in December, when four homes were found with more than 16,000 illegal pot plants worth an estimated $14.8 million, is linked to China.

Chinese workers have long been found at illegal cannabis grows in the United States, from Oklahoma to California, although many of these people appear to be victims of human trafficking. These workers are often forced to live in dangerous conditions and make very little money, according to an investigation by Searchlight New Mexico.

The DCC has increased its efforts to shut down the illegal cannabis market in California. In 2022, the agency led operations that eradicated more than 260,000 plants, more than 10 times the 19,000 plants eradicated in 2021. 

One of the largest recent raids occurred in January at an Oakland warehouse, where law enforcement found multiple firearms and more than 30,000 marijuana plants. Hafner declined to comment when asked whether that raid was linked to Chinese criminal organizations.