Officers then arrested four people who retrieved the bags from baggage claim, according to police. Authorities said they ultimately recovered seven suitcases containing 174 pounds of marijuana valued at $700,000.
All three women have been charged with trafficking marijuana and remain in custody at the Clayton County Jail.
Keomanyvanh Tong had nearly 46 pounds of marijuana, and Naly Tong had 43.34 pounds, according to officials.
Nicole Golden, 47, was taken into custody around 5 p.m. ET after picking up a bag containing about 22 pounds of marijuana, according to the statement. Naly Tong, 29, and Keomanyvanh Tong, 33, were arrested around 7:30 p.m. after retrieving one bag each from baggage claim. The police department said both women had additional bags containing marijuana.
Sheppard, 32, was charged with trafficking marijuana and taken to the Clayton County Jail. He was released Thursday morning, jail records show.
Major Joint-Operation underway in the High Desert to take down Illegal Cartel Operated Marijuana Groves impacting farmers, families, and businesses. We have teamed up with the @usarmy @deahq @vcsheriff @kernsheriff @seblasd to eradicate these illegal Marijuana groves. pic.twitter.com/y21yWExTT9— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) June 8, 2021
“We’re talking about the cartels,” Lancaster, California, Mayor Rex Parris said at a Wednesday press conference. “We are not talking about mom and pop people selling marijuana that they grew in their backyard. This is the cartels. We are very very close to driving down the freeway and seeing bodies hanging from the overpasses. That is what’s coming.”
Officials say they believe international cartels are behind the illegal large-scale marijuana farms.
The operation, which began on June 8, resulted in 22 felony arrests, 109 misdemeanor arrests, and 19 arrests from water theft enforcement teams, officials said. More than 200 locations were served with search warrants. Nearly 375,000 marijuana plants and 33,480 pounds of harvested marijuana were seized, along with 65 vehicles, 180 animals and $28,000.
“What we want to do is send a clear and loud message to the cartels and anyone doing an illegal operation in the high desert: Your days are over and we’re coming for you,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Robert Spengler, director of paleoethnobotany laboratories at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and study co-author, says that the constant stream of people moving across the Pamir Plateau—an important crossroads connecting Central Asia and China with southwest Asia—could have resulted in the hybridization of local cannabis strains with those from other areas. While hybridization is another factor known to increase psychoactive cannabis strains’ THC potency, the question of whether it was intentional, or just by happy accident, is also still unclear.
While cannabis plants and seeds have been identified at other archaeological sites from the same general region and time period—including a cannabis ‘burial shroud’ discovered in 2016—it’s been unclear in each context whether the versatile plant was used for psychoactive reasons or for other ritual purposes.
“It’s a wonderful example of how closely intertwined humans are and have been with the biotic world around them, and that they impose evolutionary pressures on the plants around them,” he says.
The discovery at Jirzankal also provides the first direct evidence that humans inhaled combusted cannabis plants in order to obtain its psychoactive effects. No evidence of smoking pipes or similar apparatus has been found in Asia before contact with the New World in the modern era, but the inhalation of cannabis smoke from a heat source is described by the fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, who described in his Histories how the Scythians, a nomadic tribe living on the Caspian Steppe, purified themselves with cannabis smoke after burying their dead: “The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and, crawling in under the mats, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smolders and sends forth such fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass it. The Scythians howl in their joy at the vapor-bath.”
“People have been skeptical of Herodotus’ ethnographies of foreign peoples,” she adds, “but as archaeology looks closer, it keeps finding affinities between the real world and what’s in the Histories.”
They saw that the Jirzankal cannabis had something the Jiayi hemp did not: Molecular remnants of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the chemical responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive effects. The strain of cannabis found at Jiayi does not contain THC, and would have been primarily been used as a source of fiber for clothing and rope, as well as nutrient-rich oilseed.
The Jirzankal cannabis features higher levels of mind-altering compounds than have yet been found at any ancient site, suggesting that people could have been intentionally cultivating certain strains of cannabis for a potent high, or selecting wild plants known to produce that effect.