Possible Link to Cannabis Dispute Suspected in the Murder of 6 Men in California’s Mojave Desert

Mocobizscene- Authorities believe that a sour illegal cannabis transaction caused the slayings of six men last week at a remote desert crossroads. This incident brought to light a persistent issue in California: a robust underground marijuana market that has persisted despite years of legal sales that were intended to eradicate it.

The fatalities served as a somber reminder of the potential for violence associated with unlawful cannabis operations, encompassing clandestine shipments to vendors located out of state, obtrusive thefts from lawful establishments, and covert illicit cannabis shipments.

“The level of violence is increasing.” “The stakes are increasing,” said Jerred Kiloh, proprietor of a dispensary and leader of the United Cannabis Business Association, a trade organization based in Los Angeles. He stated that numerous members of the organization have witnessed their dispensaries being robbed on multiple occasions, occasionally by the same criminals.

Kiloh stated, “We continue to discuss what we know to be the issue, but we are taking no action.”The carcasses were discovered by authorities on January 23 in the Mojave Desert, beyond the isolated community of El Mirage. Each of the five arrested suspects is charged with multiple offenses, including six felony counts of murder. All were detained without parole this week after entering not-guilty pleas.

About 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Los Angeles, in the vicinity where the bodies were discovered, there is a reputation for illegal cannabis operations.

Sheriff Shannon Dicus of San Bernardino County lamented, “This is a problem that is not really being discussed,” and urged legislators to reform cannabis laws so as to “maintain legalization but revert to harsher penalties for users of illegal pot.”

Concurrent with the occurrence of the homicides was the ongoing struggle of California’s heavily regulated legal cannabis industry, while clandestine operations occasionally transpire.

California has historically been the leading manufacturer of cannabis in the United States, renowned for its potent and aromatic buds. Proposition 64, which aimed to legitimize and tax the multibillion-dollar industry, was ratified by voters in 2016. The legislation explicitly declared that the extensive legal sales would effectively eradicate the illegal market. During that period, Democratic lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom referred to the legislation as a “game changer.”

Early on, legal adult-use sales encountered obstacles. Perched in the renowned “Emerald Triangle” area in the northernmost part of the state, the state’s illicit market had thrived for decades. There had been no attempt to transform this enormous illicit economy into a legal one since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

The majority of consumers continue to acquire marijuana on the black market, where they can circumvent tariffs that in some communities can approach fifty percent. Numerous municipalities in California failed to legalize or prohibit commercial marijuana operations. Concurrently, law enforcement has encountered significant challenges in effectively monitoring the proliferation of illicit trade, which continues to expand.

Potential criminal penalties for cultivating and selling cannabis were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 64. The former carries a maximum fine of $500 and a prison sentence of six months. At this time, there are no active proposals to enhance criminal penalties in the legislature.

Dicus stated that his department executed 411 search warrants and recovered $370 million in 2023 from illicit marijuana cultivation sites throughout the county. Deputies seized 64,565 kilograms of processed marijuana, 74,000 pounds (33,565 kilograms) of plants, and 14 laboratories producing honey oil, a potent cannabis concentrate. He stated that eleven search warrants were executed in the desolate region where the murders took place.

“In actuality, Proposition 64 reduced the criminal status of illegal marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor, as stated in the fine print. “And the reality is that we have instigated a plague in California by permitting this,” Dicus stated on Monday at a news conference.

Griffen Thorne, an attorney specializing in cannabis, remarked that between October and December of 2023, state investigators executed 24 search warrants against illegal operations, for a total of 188 for the year. This was far insufficient to disrupt the illicit market, which is considerably larger than the law.

He stated that violence is an inevitable byproduct of unlawful conduct and that “such incidents will persist so long as the government permits the illicit market to fester unchecked.”

A recently approved legislative proposal in the state Senate seeks to augment the authority of state and local agencies to seize equipment and property linked to unauthorized cultivation.

Desert murders were not the initial incidents stemming from cannabis disputes. Seven individuals were shot and killed in 2020 at an illicit marijuana cultivation facility in a rural community in neighboring Riverside County. Over twenty individuals resided on the property, which housed a number of improvised dwellings utilized in the production of honey oil.

Although marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 38 states and for general adult use in 24 others.

Kiloh and other industry experts foresee the situation deteriorating further as legitimate operators who are unable to generate revenue exit the sector. Prior to this, industry leaders in cannabis have cautioned that the state’s legal sector might perish in the absence of tax cuts and an increase in retail sales.

Kiloh stated, “It is tragic and I believe it is a direct reflection of the actions of this government and this industry.” “We have extended an invitation to organized crime to return to California in order to vie for an illicit market.”

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MBS Staff
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