RIVERSIDE — Seven people were found fatally shot at an illegal marijuana growing operation in rural Southern California, authorities said.
The crime scene was discovered before dawn Monday after deputies responded to a report of an assault with a deadly weapon at a home in the unincorporated community of Aguanga, north of San Diego, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement late Monday.
Deputies found a woman suffering from gunshot wounds who was then taken to a hospital and died, Monday’s statement said.
They then found six more dead people at the location that “was being used to manufacture and harvest an illicit marijuana operation,” the statement said.
More than 1,000 Pounds of Marijuana Found
More than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and several hundred marijuana plants were found.
A search did not immediately locate suspects, the statement said.
“This appears to have been an isolated incident, and there is no threat to the general public,” the statement said.
The sheriff’s department declined Tuesday morning to disclose additional details about the case.
California broadly legalized recreational marijuana sales in January 2018 but the illegal market has continued to thrive, in part because hefty legal marijuana taxes send consumers looking for better deals in the illicit economy.
Attractive Targets for Criminals
Other factors that provide an opening for illegal sales and cultivation: Many local California communities have not established legal marijuana markets, or have banned commercial marijuana activity. Law enforcement has been unable to keep up with the illicit growing operations.
“This risk is inherent in the underground market,” said Los Angeles marijuana dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh, who heads United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group. “When you have money and high returns, people want to take that from you.”
Kiloh said most illicit market crimes go unreported because operators who have been robbed cannot turn to authorities.
Large cannabis growing operations typically have hundreds of thousands of dollars of product at each site, making them attractive targets for criminals.
“That’s why the violence becomes worse and worse,” Kiloh said.