A company just had another successful test of a cannabis drug for epilepsy — and now their stock is spiking
Reuters- By. Natalie Grover & Ben Hirschler - 09/26/2016
An experimental cannabis-derived drug has successfully treated children with severe epilepsy in a third late-stage clinical trial, sending shares in Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals to a record high on Monday.
GW, which was founded in 1998 to capitalize on the medical benefits of cannabis, said it now expected to submit a marketing application for Epidiolex to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the first half of 2017.
Its multiple sclerosis treatment Sativex, which is sprayed under the tongue, is already distributed by marketing partners in more than 20 countries, but not in the United States.
If Epidiolex is approved, it could become the first U.S.-approved prescription to be extracted from cannabis. It contains cannabidiol, a component of cannabis that does not make people high, and is administered as a child-friendly syrup.
Its commercial potential has attracted possible acquirers of GW, according to people familiar with the matter. Reuters reported earlier this month that GW was working with an investment bank after other drugmakers approached it to express interest in an acquisition.
Morgan Stanley analyst Andrew Berens said the latest positive trial results would further de-risk the Epidiolex development program.
GW has strong British roots, with a government license to grow cannabis plants for its medicines in southern England. In 2013 it also listed its shares on Nasdaq.
Investors view Epidiolex as critical to GW's future and hopes have been building following positive feedback from "compassionate access" programs involving hundreds of American children. Its Phase III trials, however, are make-or-break.
In the latest trial, both tested doses of Epidiolex were found to have induced a statistically significant improvement in reducing seizures in patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), GW said.
LGS is a disease that is characterized by seizures, impaired intellectual functioning, developmental delays and behavioral disturbances.
The drug had already succeeded in another late-stage study in LGS and GW has also announced positive results from a late-stage study on patients with Dravet syndrome, another severe form of epilepsy.
The company's shares rose as much as 16 percent to hit a record high of 811 pence on the London Stock Exchange. They were trading 10 percent higher at 770p by 1255 GMT.
GW Pharmaceutical Gets Closer To Forcing FDA On Cannabis
Forbes - Debra Borchardt - 09/28/16
British biotech company GW Pharmaceuticalsannounced positive results on its latest Phase 3 clinical trial for its drug Epidiolex. The drug is cannabidiol-based and is used to treat children with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare form of childhood epilepsy.
The results from the test were very positive. Patients taking 20mg of Epidiolex saw their seizures on average drop 42% compared to a drop of 17% in patients taking a placebo. Patients taking 10mg of Epidiolex experienced a 37% drop in seizures versus the 17% drop in the placebo group.
The next step for GW Pharmaceuticals is to seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA for approval. The company said it expects to submit a New Drug Application with the FDA in the first half of 2017. If approved, it would be the first plant-derived cannabinoid drug in the U.S. to be approved.After the FDA approves a new drug application, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) legally must reschedule within 90 days (per theImproving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act). So, Epidiolex would be rescheduled by DEA within 90 days, but overall marijuana would not be rescheduled.
This further complicates the rescheduling argument. How could the DEA declare Epidiolex, cannabinoid drug a medicine, but then still insist marijuana has no medicinal benefits? Of course, they do that now because the U.S. government has medical patents on marijuana and still declare it has no medicinal qualities.
GW Pharmaceutical stock is up 26% for the past year and was lately trading near $124. It shot up earlier this month when rumors swirled about the company’s buyout potential. Then a week after the stock popped 20% on the rumor, the chief medical officer Steven Wright sold 16,524 shares at $98.75. Wright informed the company in August that he planned to retire in May 2017, so he may have seen an opportune moment to sell his shares.
Cowen & Company analyst Phil Nadeau took the news to reiterate his price target of $135 and outperform rating on the stock. Nadeau is forecasting Epidiolex revenue, assuming approval, to be approximately $260MM for 2018, $570MM for 2019, and rising to $895MM by 2020. Nadeau wrote, “With three positive Ph. III trials, we expect Epidiolex to be approved during H1:18, and we project worldwide sales of $1.1B in 2021.”
How the Ultra-Rich Smoke Weed
MOTHERBOARD - By. Madison Margolin - 09/27/2016
Cheryl Shuman likes to make weed purées for dessert, topped off with Goldschlager Cinnamon Schnapps.
"Imagine a beautiful cannabis infused chocolate soufflé with a raspberry purée on top with the gold sparkles from the Schnapps,” she told me. “It's delicious and oh so glamorous.”
This is Shuman’s world: glitz, glam, and ganj. As the director of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, a high-end purveyor of luxury weed and accessories, her love for cannabis overlaps with her activism which overlaps with her pot rebranding campaign. And while we might associate weed with Ziploc baggies and hazy basements, this is more about diamond studded vape pens and Hollywood soirées.
And she’s not alone—Shuman is part of a growing circle of entrepreneurs capitalizing on what she calls the "pot com boom." With US marijuana sales expected to top $10 billion by 2018, there's a lot of money to not only be made in the legal bud industry, but also to be spent. So 14-karat gold vape pens, dank artisan grown bud, golden rolling papers, munchie-free skinny weed, and gourmet edibles are transforming a once underground trade into a luxury business.
"Since Colorado's historic decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use, states are lining up—and so are we as branding experts, designers, and entrepreneurs," said Shuman, who is also the head of Moms for Marijuana, a network of mothers advocating for safe and legal cannabis.
Her cannabis club offers a range of sparkly accessories, from gold and pavé diamond vaporizers to couture handbags with hidden stash compartments. She is also working to soon launch cannabis-friendly resorts, hotels, fine dining, internet cafes, workout yoga centers, and coffee shops with the club's signature products. The team already hosts private Hollywood events, such as a Grammy's afterparty and weed-infused dinner parties, cooked by professional chefs.
The luxury cannabis market is usually not just about getting high. It’s about the taste, texture, quality, feeling, and environment in which the consumer ingests it and in which the bud itself is grown. So it’s not surprising that in our food-obsessed world, the high-end weed industry is taking munchies and edibles to a whole new level.
LA-based cannabis cook Jeff the 420 Chef also caters to this “high” end scene. He travels to individual homes and parties—celebrity parties, yacht parties, cannabis magazine parties—to cook up infused feasts. Kale salad, hazy Thai wings, and 420 Irish Cream (sans alcohol) are some of his favorites. He keeps the dose at around 10 milligrams per person (assuming you don't stuff yourself), which he says would have about as strong an effect as two glasses of wine.
Evoxe Laboratories, one of the companies featured at the Emerald Exchange Farmers Market, banks on the desired effects of a bud's variety, combining cannabis oil with terpenes from aromatic essential oils for users to vape. Blending an indica strain with lavender, chamomile, and orange essential oils has a more relaxing effect, while a sativa strain with peppermint, lime, cypress, and cinnamon oils will be more uplifting—like the "Red Bull of cannabis," said Michael Katz, president of Evoxe.
While all the chemicals in cannabis work synergistically during what's called the "entourage effect," adding in essential oils and chemicals from other plants like Evoxe does enhances that effect even more. "Luxury cannabis is knowing your cultivator and knowing the quality of the product you're using and how it's made," said Katz.
Once you've got some luxury dank, there are more luxurious ways to smoke it than ever before. Artisan bongs and art piece pipes can cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dab rigs can also be expensive, costing up to $10,000. Not to mention a couple thousand dollars will get you a prime rozin press (not a perfectly good hair straightener) and torches. Nice dabs themselves can also be hundreds of dollars depending on how much you get.
For the rest of us plebes without an extra grand in your wallet, there's always golden rolling papers. The only kind of edible gold is 24 karats, said Dave Brown, CEO of Shine Papers. His products range from $14 to $55 per pack.
"No, it's not oxygen,” Brown said, “but people like to show off. People like to celebrate with their friends. Shine is a very social product. You're probably not sitting alone on your couch smoking Shine, you're probably doing it with your friends or at a concert."
With all the fanfare around how high society gets, well, high, smoking a simple joint seems all of a sudden rudimentary. But even the people selling luxury weed say that at the end of the day, it’s all about how you feel.
"But it's not all about just getting high," said Calvino. "What function does it serve? Is it a relaxant, is it for focus? Are the desired effects met? And how do you enjoy the way you feel when you're smoking?"
Alaska’s first commercial cannabis harvest begins
Alaska Dispatch News - By. Laural Andrews - 9/26/2016
KASILOF – With autumn tightening its grip on Alaska, the state's first-ever commercial marijuana harvests are underway.
At Greatland Ganja, a marijuana grow in this small town on the Kenai Peninsula, brothers Leif and Arthur Abel are nearly finished pulling their cannabis plants from the high tunnels they call "gnome domes," where 10 different strains grew throughout the summer.
"We've got probably over half our crop already dried and partly cured," Leif said Wednesday, standing in one of the facility's four rooms, surrounded by bins of marijuana being processed by workers.
Around 75 pounds of dried marijuana had been processed so far, Leif said. The company is hoping for roughly 100 pounds from this first crop.
Walk into Greatland Ganja's compact facility and drying marijuana hangs high overhead. In an adjacent room, immature cannabis plants are stacked on shelving units that reach up to the ceiling; in the office, workers trim buds from plants recently pulled from the ground. A vertical drying rack system that pulls from the wall can dry 100-200 pounds of cannabis at a time, Leif said.
Each batch of marijuana must be tested by a state-licensed testing facility, which so far remain closed.
"This process means nothing to anybody until the labs are open," Leif Abel said.
Only two labs are nearing completion, and both are in Anchorage. CannTest, located in Anchorage's Ship Creek area, is hoping to open in mid-October, CEO Mark Malagodi said Thursday. AK Green Labs hopes to open in early November, according to owner Brian Coyle.
Meanwhile, Greatland Ganja has been in talks with retailers for about a year, Leif said.
So far, the prices are unknown, but Leif estimated $15 a gram for B-grade buds. "It's hard to give out a price list until your product is dried and cured and you've got it lab tested," he said.
At $800 a pound, state taxes are more than half of their production costs, Leif said. "This year we'll probably be paying the state over $100,000, just for this one harvest," he said.
Meanwhile in Fairbanks, Rosie Creek Farm is also wrapping up its first harvest. Rosie Creek was the second grow to be licensed in the state in July. It began pulling up plants about a month ago, owner Mike Emers said Thursday.
A relatively late start in the season, followed by a rainy summer, made growing outdoors more challenging, Emers said. Luckily, September's weather has held steady, with only a few days of frost.
"We're just trying like heck to beat freezeup and get the rest of the stuff out of the field," Emers said.
Statewide, 12 commercial facilities are up and running. Half are in Fairbanks. The others are in North Pole, Juneau, Valdez, Seward, Sterling and Kasilof.
Subsistence Products, a limited cultivation facility in Fairbanks (defined as a grow with less than 500 square feet of plant space) also started harvesting this week, owner Karl Hough said.
Other grows are close behind. Pakalolo Supply Co., Tanana Herb Company, LLC, Green Rush Gardens, LLC, and Elevated Innovations are all about three weeks from harvest time, each company said Thursday.
The rest are further out, expecting their first harvest in November or December. (Only one grow, Foxy Enterprises in Fairbanks, couldn't be reached for comment.)
Meanwhile, the state will be licensing the first marijuana retail store in the first few days of October, Remedy Shoppe in the Southeast community of Skagway.
For Greatland Ganja, the brothers will continue building and processing their crop, waiting for the next stages to begin.
"I look at this as a successful business right now because we've made it this far. The licensing has been a huge hurdle and funding has been a huge hurdle," Arthur said. "But the big landmark for me is when we start to see income. No business is successful without making income, and at this stage of the game we have not made a dime."
National fire safety group focuses on unique issues of marijuana businesses
The Cannabist - By. Alicia Wallace - 09/26/2016
Fire codes adopted by various cities and states across the nation may soon have a chapter on cannabis cultivation and processing facilities.
The National Fire Protection Association, a member-based nonprofit that develops codes and standards for fire safety, is steps closer to adding a chapter on marijuana grows and processing facilities to its NFPA 1, Fire Code.
The chapter has been in the works for more than a year, said Kristin Bigda, NFPA’s principal fire protection engineer who had guided a task force — consisting of NFPA and marijuana industry members — assembled to develop the code language. Following a series of revisions, additions and many meetings, a second draft of the code language is expected to go before the NFPA’s technical committee on Oct. 3 and 4, in Milwaukee, Wis., she said.
“One of the things that the task group has been keeping in mind as they develop this language … is what truly is unique about these facilities and what requirements does NFPA already have,” she said.
Taking a lead role in the development of these guidelines have been fire marshals and industry members in Colorado, which were profiled in the September/October edition of the NFPA Journal:
Public safety agencies have played a key role in shaping the evolution of this fast-moving industry, even as they were often forced to write the textbook while learning the material. “Our knowledge of the industry literally started at zero,” said Brian Lukus, a young fire protection engineer who has led the Denver Fire Department’s marijuana efforts. “Meanwhile, the industry went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in an instant.”
The work done in Colorado — as well as in Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, states where recreational marijuana is also legal — may provide a roadmap for other jurisdictions as the legalization movement continues its methodical march across the nation. Likewise, Colorado’s struggles, some of which are ongoing, could help other states better manage similar issues.
The NFPA Journal cover story highlighted some of the unique challenges presented by the rapidly growing industry, notably the potential dangers of the commercial production processes to manufacture concentrates.
If the technical committee accepts the second draft, the chapter could land in the 2018 edition of NFPA 1, which would publish in the second half of 2017, Bigda said.
Why the Term “Marijuana” Is Contentious in the U.S.
Culture - By. Zoe Wilder - 09/26/2016
Is “marijuana” a bad word? Some members of the United States legal cannabis movement think so and are pushing to end its use. Considering that over 50 world languages use the term to describe the magical nugs that so many people love to smoke, the etymological animosity may strike you as curious.
The debate stems from the country’s history of marijuana prohibition, with drug laws that display clear racial bias. Although the word marijuana predates the 1900s, use of it increased significantly in the 1930s, when elitist reporters, government officials, and narcotics officers alike employed the Latin-American Spanish word to associate it with “invading” and “perverted” Mexicans—and African-Americans, who would allegedly smoke marijuana, then rape, maim, and kill people. (Sound like any 2016 presidential and vice presidential candidatesyou know?)
“Harry Anslinger [the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics] was wildly successful at stigmatizing ‘marijuana’ as a foreign, negative, violent, and evil influence on our society through his smear campaign and propaganda efforts against cannabis in the 1930s,” says Frontera Group’s Jeffrey Welsh, a California attorney formerly of William Morris Endeavor who helps cannabis advocates and developing talent navigate the complexities of the cannabis industry.
Anslinger was a classic flip-flopping politico. Once a supporter of cannabis, he changed the game after his appointment as commissioner in 1930. Like the Bureau of Prohibition, the FBN operated under the U.S. Treasury Department. At that time, alcohol and drugs were considered revenue losses to the Treasury. As illegal substances, they could not be taxed.
Within a few years, Anslinger became an aggressive supporter of prohibition and the criminalization of drugs, and he played a crucial role in prohibiting cannabis. His propaganda machine began to promote fear and shame. His campaigns against marijuana use carried racist, elitist sentiments: “...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races” and “...most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use.”
Although racism is not unique to the United States, systemic racial oppression is the foundation upon which the country was built. And while words themselves won’t necessarily eradicate racism, popular perception can.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. However, we should use the scientific name for the plant instead of marijuana, pot, weed, and the like,” saysJesce Horton, co-founder and chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “The alternate terms, whether racist or not, have connotations that have been used to place this plant in a negative or insignificant space.”
Using the scientific term cannabis is both a reproach of the racist roots and a means to remove the stigma and reclassify the plant in the minds of those who’ve been taught a negative association.
“If we’re going to elevate cannabis and bring it out of the darkness, out of something only a teenager does in their basement, then using the word cannabis keeps it scientific,” says cannabis cultivator and Farma budtender Taylor Rabe. “It’s more official and cannabis’ legitimacy becomes more approachable.”
On its website, Oakland’s Harborside Health Center echoes this etymological stance: “Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda.”
Whether or not you continue to use the word marijuana, it’s difficult to deny its complexities and racial implications. It’s been an arduous journey since theReefer Madness days, from the War on Drugs to ending prohibition and legitimizing the plant in this country. It’s important that we bring these challenging topics to light to ensure progress. Meaningful dialogue can help turn cannabis adversaries into supporters, who, in-turn, could help reform our laws and perhaps restore peace and freedom to our unjust, racist, Drug War-torn nation.
Testing Cannabis On-The-Go is Now a Reality
Culture Magazine - ireadculture - 09/26/16
Testing cannabis has just gotten a lot more convenient with the MyDx Anazlyer and CannaDx Sensor Kit. This pocket-sized cannabis testing machine has the ability of testing a cannabis flower’s chemical composition of cannabinoids like CBD, CBC, CBN, THC and THCV. The device is also able to recognize more than 20 terpenes present in the flower, some of which are alpha-pinene, linalool, myrcene, beta caryophyllene and limonene.
Having the ability to test the exact chemical profile of a strain will help consumers predict what type of effect they will get upon consumption. This is because cannabinioids and terpenes are the active compounds of cannabis. That means they’re responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive and therapeutic effects.
The device also connects with your cell phone, so you’re able to track the results of each strain in addition to whether or not it delivers the desired effects you were looking for in the MyDx profile.
Users can track strains on the MyDx profile, and they can also find the perfect strain for them by highlighting what type of ailment they are trying to relieve from anxiety and pain to epilepsy. MyDx Profile even has an option for users to add a custom ailment.
The MyDx profile allows the user to track if their symptoms were better or worse with each strain, as well as the ways it made them feel regarding their happiness, energy, focus, relaxation and more.
This device was created to help further the positive development of the cannabis industry. The MyDx website explains how they plan to empower the industry, “We do so by providing the easiest-to-use and most reliable portable cannabis analyzer. This gives manufacturers, distributors, regulators, and consumers the information they need to make smarter decisions about their cannabis. In doing so, we hope to establish cannabis as a legitimate medicine as well as to help legitimize the industry as a whole.”
Natural Ways to Activate the Endocannabinoid System Without Marijuana
Merry Jane - By. Roni Stetter - 09/26/2016
Living a healthy, holistic lifestyle with cannabis isn’t about getting baked—it’s about getting balanced. So, if you are serious about using the herb to improve your health, it’s time to start looking at broad lifestyle changes that contribute to whole-body wellness.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of a network of biochemical receptors within the brain and body that regulate mood, pain, metabolism, sleep, and more important physiological processes. THC tends to bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain, while CBD tends to work on CB2 receptors in the immune cells of the body. It’s part of your peripheral nervous system and can be fueled not only by cannabis, but also by natural cannabinoids produced inside the body.
Without this system working within your body, you’d certainly be a nervous wreck—and many of us already are. Some health professionals even go so far as to claim “endocannabinoid deficiency” as the cause of several hard-to-treat diseases. Whether or not it’s the root of all our health problems, regulating the endocannabinoid system is part of a new wave in mind-body awareness and improving everyday preventative health.
So, how can we optimize this system of the body to live healthier and happier, with more energy? Aside from supplementing your body with THC and CBD from cannabis, there are some other lesser-known yet invigorating ways to activate and balance this system of your body.
Eat This, Not That
Partaking in the right foods can keep your endocannabinoid system running smoothly, while the wrong types of food can completely mess it up. “Superfood” is a buzzword in the nutritional community, but it’s true that some foods have powers bordering on magical. Eating a diet rich in certain plant polyphenols and antioxidant spices, like turmeric, saffron, and nutmeg, can stimulate your endocannabinoid system much like a healthy serving of cannabis sativa. Conversely, you can keep things tight by avoiding inflammatory foods, such as dairy, red meat, and refined sugars and flours. Sounds hard, given the way the munchies make you feel, but by making incremental good choices with your diet, you can see a lot of improvement in your metabolism and the way you feel each day—and it’s all because of endocannabinoids.
Stay Lit, Stay Fit
Believe it or not, exercising regularly is almost as good as being high all the time. By now it’s somewhat common knowledge that the “runner’s high” felt by endurance athletes is almost on point with a psychoactive THC high. Just like a great dab, cardiovascular exercise can improve your mood and assist in keeping a healthy sleep schedule. Additionally, exercising helps to rid your body of fats and toxins. With heavy use, you can build up quite the tolerance to cannabis, making it less effective. Sweating it out will help you maintain that regular high every day, with or without weed.
Smoke One and Chill
For a boost in endocannabinoids and a growing sense of well-being, try engaging in stress-reducing activities, like staying hydrated, doing breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
Ultimately, the endocannabinoid system becomes strained through physical and mental stress, so it makes sense that avoiding inflammation like the plague will keep your system running smoothly. Alcohol is another stressor to avoid. Those hangovers cause inflammation, and using alcohol is actually thought to work the wrong way on the endocannabinoid system, causing dependency issues.
Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, so the responsibility of good health is all up to you. Find your perfect balance today.
Marijuana arrests fall to lowest level since 1996
The Washington Post - By. Christopher Ingraham - 9/26/2016
Arrests for simple marijuana possession in the United States fell to nearly a two-decade low last year, according to new statistics released Monday by the FBI.
The number of arrests for marijuana possession in 2015 -- 574,641 -- is the lowest number since 1996. It represents a 7 percent year-over-year drop, and roughly a 25 percent drop from the peak of close to 800,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2007.
The FBI data suggest that, in aggregate, law enforcement officers are devoting less time to marijuana enforcement relative to other drugs. In 2010, for instance, marijuana sales and possession together accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests. By 2015, that number had fallen to 43 percent. By contrast, the numbers show police have been making more arrests for cocaine and heroin, and for other non-narcotic drugs.
Still, the marijuana possession arrest rate works out to more than one arrest every minute.
Advocates of drug policy reform have long criticized high rate of marijuana arrests as misplaced criminal justice priorities. The Drug Policy Alliance calls marijuana arrests "the engine driving the U.S. war on drugs" and says that "the huge number of marijuana arrests every year usurps scarce law enforcement, criminal justice and treatment resources at enormous cost to taxpayers."
A widely-cited 2013 ACLU report estimated that the total cost to taxpayers of marijuana possession enforcement in the U.S. was $3.6 billion. It also found that while whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, black users were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for it.
Four brothers kidnapped and forced to work on marijuana farm in Northern California
Los Angeles Times - By. Hailey Branson-Potts - 09/22/2016
Authorities in Northern California are investigating possible drug cartel activity after four Modesto brothers say they were kidnapped, tortured and forced to work for more than five months on an enormous, illegal marijuana farm under the threat of violence.
The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department this week announced the arrest of two women. Guadalupe “Lupe” Arrellano, 43, and Medarda “Daniella” Urbieta Estudillo, 34, were arrested Sept. 14 in Modesto and charged with human trafficking, kidnapping, battery with serious bodily injury, making terrorist threats and drug charges, authorities said.
Sheriff’s officials said they are still seeking two men in connection with the case.
In February, Arrellano picked up two men from a Modesto business known as a place where day laborers congregate, Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo said at a news conference. She told the men she needed help working on a landscaping project at a home in Calaveras County.
The brothers worked at a home in the small, remote town of West Point for several days before being taken by force to a nearby marijuana cultivation site, where they were threatened, according to the sheriff’s office.
Arrellano got the men’s home address in Modesto and went to the residence, where she told family members that two were working for her on a marijuana farm. She offered to take two more relatives to the site, but told them that if they said anything to law enforcement, their family members would be killed, according to the sheriff’s office.
Two additional brothers went with her to the West Point site, where they were threatened by armed men, taken to their family members and forced to work on the marijuana harvest while their remaining family members in Modesto were continually threatened by the captors, authorities said.
The four men, whose names have not been released, were kept in squalid conditions, sleeping on cots outdoors. They were severely beaten for complaining about the conditions.
At one point, one of the men heard a male captor ask Arrellano whether he could kill the victims, Macedo said. Arrellano reportedly told the captors no because they were nearly done with the marijuana harvest, but that they could be killed after they finished their work. About that time, one of the captors tried to stab one of the victims, holding a gun and knife at the same time, according to the sheriff’s office.
That night, on July 27, the men escaped and ran to a West Point home, where a resident called authorities. Three of the men had “significant” visible injuries.
The injured men were taken to a nearby hospital, and one had to be taken to a trauma center because of the severity of his wounds.
On July 28, law enforcement officials from Calaveras and Tuolumne counties and federal agencies served a search warrant near Bald Mountain Road, where they located the growing operation.
Investigators found 23,245 marijuana plants with an estimated street value between $18 and $60 million, at least two firearms, multiple cellphones and $10,000 in cash.
“There was mention of cartel activity that has yet to be corroborated,” Macedo said. “There was a specific cartel mentioned, however we have not corroborated that information at this time.”
Macedo said it was a “large-scale investigation” involving numerous local and federal agencies. The amount of food stored on the marijuana growing site indicated it was a large operation, he said.
Macedo described the remote location as a “long, narrow, winding road to the middle of nowhere.”
“It can seem like you’re a world away from your home,” he said.
While authorities searched the property, one man was seen running from investigators, according to the sheriff’s department. A backpack was found along the trail on which he ran; a handgun was inside.
No arrests were made at the time of the search, but authorities in the weeks following served search warrants at multiple locations in Stanislaus County.
Authorities said they found a religious shrine to Santa Muerte, the folk saint of death popular among drug traffickers and cartels, during a search of a Modesto home linked to the case.
Macedo said Arrellano and Urbieta Estudillo were in the country illegally and were known to use several aliases.
In May, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors made it legal for farmers to grow medical marijuana for commercial sale. The urgency ordinance was enacted in part to help the struggling county recover from last year’s devastating Butte fire, which charred more than 70,000 acres, destroyed 549 homes and killed two people.
Authorities said the West Point marijuana farm was unregistered.