The war on drugs can be a ridiculous contrivance, but there’s just something awesome about seeing cops raid a pusher man and come away with staggeringly huge amounts of illegal substances. Here are the most epic busts ever perpetrated.
San Francisco, 1991
In what is generally regarded as the biggest haul of smack in U.S. history, authorities raided a warehouse in Hayward, Calif. after a month of surveillance and came away with a staggering 1,200 pounds of China White heroin. That doesn’t seem like much from a poundage perspective, but the street value of those drugs was estimated at nearly $3 billion. One warehouse was valued at more than Mark Cuban’s entire net worth. The cover for the business was a porcelain-importing company. Four people were arrested in conjunction with the raid.
Los Angeles, 1989
The City of Angels has always been the locus for cocaine in America, so it’s not surprising that the biggest coke bust of all time happened there. In 1989, the ATF received an anonymous tip about a suspicious warehouse in Sylmar. Since they get dozens of these a day, it took a little while to follow up on it, but when they did they found a building packed to the rafters with a staggering 20 tons of cocaine, along with $10 million in cash. The drugs could have pulled in $6 billion on the streets. The most amazing part: All of this was protected with a flimsy $6 padlock.
Needless to say, the Mexican border towns are some of the hottest areas in the drug business, with cartels conspiring to push tremendous amounts of illegal substances into the United States. The hugest marijuana bust to ever happen in Mexico took place in Tijuana in 2010. Early one October morning, police and soldiers stormed a warehouse and got into a gun battle with cartel soldiers. Once the crooks were routed, the cops were stunned to find 105 tons -- 10,000 packages -- of marijuana, color-coded by shipping region. One stack even had pictures of Homer Simpson on them saying, “I’m going to get high, dude” in Spanish. The total value was more than $215 million.
Drug smugglers use all kinds of sneaky methods to get their merchandise from place to place. When an international smuggling syndicate tried to move 4.4 tons of ecstasy into Australia, they packaged the pills in tomato cans and shipped them through Melbourne Harbor. In a classic sly narc move, the cops intercepted the shipment, swapped placebos for all the drugs and continued to monitor it to trace it back to the buyers. Seventeen people ended up being arrested up and down the pipeline as a result of the investigation.
Some of the biggest raids in history have happened closer to the zones of production. One of the most notorious was the 1984 raid on “Tranquilandia,” the laboratory set up by Medellin Cartel head Pablo Escobar in the jungles of Colombia. The laboratory processed staggering amounts of raw coca into cocaine every week, fueling the drug trade all over the Americas. The DEA found a supplier providing ether (an important ingredient in cocaine production) to Escobar, planted tracking devices on their shipments and traced them to the jungle plant. They provided the information to the Colombian police, who shut it down in 1984 and destroyed 13.8 metric tons of coke, valued at over $1.2 billion.
Lashkar Gah, 2010
Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin in the world by a terrifying margin, with over 93 percent of the world's skag made from poppies grown in the troubled nation. So it makes sense, since we’re over there anyway, to try to crack down on production. In a raid held in the town of Lashkar Gah in 2010, an Afghan police force under the direction of a British narcotics officer seized 17.5 tons of poppy seeds, enough to produce 30 tons of pure heroin after processing. Profits from the drug trade funded Taliban soldiers, so this was a double victory.
Pot busts typically involve a lot of volume but not a lot of cash value, because pot sells for less per ounce on the street. But when cops raided an ordinary house in the Queens, N.Y. neighborhood of Middle Village, they got both. Behind the walls of the house was a staggering 50,000 pounds of marijuana neatly baled, with a street value in the hundreds of millions. Cops found the place when they stopped one of the runners driving with a suspended license while carrying nine pounds of weed.
The illegal drug market has fingers all over the world, and one of the most recent busts happened in Saudi Arabia, despite the nation’s death penalty for drug smugglers and dealers. In January 2010, Saudi authorities searched a truck carrying heavy equipment tires, and discovered 8.35 million Captagon pills. Captagon, a stimulant drug, is very popular on the black market, and the police used information from captured smugglers to bust several warehouses that contained material to make 200 million more pills, for a total street value of $1.6 billion.
The thing about making drugs is that you want to be as far away from everything else as possible. Case in point: the LSD production lab located inside an abandoned missile silo in the tiny town of Wamego, Kan. Run by William L. Pickard, who ironically held a day job as Deputy Director of the University of California’s drug policy research program, the lab produced nearly a half-pound of pure LSD every week, enough to trip out two million people. The DEA, working with an informant, raided the lab and seized 90 pounds of LSD plus enough raw materials to make another 30. Since the bust, many observers have claimed those numbers seem inflated, but no matter how you slice it, the Wamego bust was the biggest LSD raid in history.
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The biggest marijuana seizure of all time happened in the growing fields of Fresno County, a sparsely populated stretch of California that has long been a haven for pot farmers. The massive National Forests are perfect for pot growers to set up shop in and grow huge amounts of kind. When local law enforcement decided to crack down, they rolled out the single largest marijuana bust of all time. In a one-week sweep, they raided multiple farms in the Sierra Nevada, seizing and destroying over a billion dollars of marijuana plants and arresting 82 Mexican nationals who were running the farms.