"Before his corpse was dumped in a shallow grave 50 miles north of Los Angeles, Mauricio Ismael Gonzalez-Ramirez was held prisoner at one of the hundreds of black-market pot farms that have exploded across California’s high desert in the last several years, authorities say.
He worked in what has become California’s newest illegal marijuana haven: the Mojave Desert. A world away from the lush forest groves of the “Emerald Triangle” of Northern California, this hot, dry, unforgiving climate has attracted more than a thousand marijuana plantations that fill the arid expanse between the Antelope Valley and the Colorado River.
It’s an unprecedented siege that has upended life in the remote desert communities and vast tract developments that overlook Joshua trees and scrub. Authorities say the boom has led to forced labor, violence, water theft and the destruction of fragile desert habitat and wildlife.
Longtime residents say they feel less safe, claiming black-market growers act with impunity by carrying weapons, trading gunfire with rivals and threatening those who wander too close to their farms."