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7 killed in gangland slaying at California marijuana house

Seven people were shot to death in killings that officials say have ties to an illegal marijuana-growing operation in the remote California community of Aguanga, 18 miles east of Temecula. The deaths mark the 14th killings tied to marijuana cultivation this year in Aguanga, which has a population of 1,128.

“We were called to the property to investigate reports of an assault with a deadly weapon,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said. “We found the victims in or around one of the dwellings.”

Local and federal authorities seized over 1,000 pounds of dried marijuana and hundreds of plants. The facilities included a lab for making CBD oil, an oil derived from marijuana plants that contains no THC, the active psychotropic in marijuana. CBD oil is used for a variety of conditions.

“More than 20 people lived at property, a ‘major organized crime-type operation’ consisting of multiple homes and other buildings, including a cannabis nursery and facilities for drying and processing marijuana plants, the sheriff said,” reports the Times of San Diego.

All the victims and witnesses are immigrants from Laos, say authorities.

While authorities say they have witnesses to the murders, so far they have made no arrests.

“Marijuana is not a victimless crime,” said Sheriff Chad Bianco.

“This was not a small operation,” Bianco added according to USA Today. “This is a very organized-crime type of an operation.”

Although California legalized pot possession and cultivation, illegal operations still dominate the market.

“The state broadly legalized recreational marijuana sales in January 2018. But the illicit market is thriving – in part because hefty legal marijuana taxes send consumers looking for better deals in the illegal economy,” says USA Today.

Illegal pot operations in the area are so common that area residents have come to accept a certain amount of law enforcement surveillance says a local real estate broker.

“Law enforcement surveillance in the area has spawned nicknames like ‘Marijuana Mondays,’ ‘Weed Wednesdays’ and ‘THC Thursdays,’” Mike Reed, a real estate broker and 28-year Aguanga resident told the USA Today.

Many localities in California also don’t have clearly defined zoning laws that either prohibit or allow marijuana cultivation. That allows the illegal farms to operate in a gray area where authorities take a permissive approach to enforcement because they don’t have local guidance. Often these operations span several states in places where local authorities are lax.

“Bianco said the FBI and other federal agencies have been requested to assist because evidence indicates the cultivation operation had connections in other states. The most telling aspect was that a number of vehicles found at the property were registered outside California, the sheriff said,” reports the local Desert Sun.

PHOTO: Elliot Spagat/AP

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