Despite the passage of I-502, marijuana growing operations continue to expand in the forests of many western states including Washington.

While supporters were touting the huge amounts of money that would be taken away from drug cartels by legalizing marijuana, officials say the demand for large amounts of the drug still create legal and criminal issues.

USA Today reported Friday the Drug Enforcement Agency conducted Operation Mountain Sweep in August covering seven western states including Washington. Over $1 billion worth of marijuana plants and crops were destroyed. U.S. officials say the growers -- most with ties to Latin American drug cartels -- are largely illegal aliens. These growing operations are compared to dangerous military sites. In Washington and Oregon, DEA agents and other law officers who uncover and destroy these operations often find evidence of military weapons and other serious threats to citizens.

According to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who oversees the Eastern District of California:

"The relaxation of marijuana laws — some states allow medical use, and Washington and Colorado voters legalized possession of small amounts last month — certainly doesn't help the situation... It creates an environment in which law enforcement gets mixed signals."

Seattle firefighters responding to a call at a home in the Seward Park suburb found an illegal growing operation Wednesday. They suspect the blaze was triggered by suspicious wiring in place to power the operation.

An interesting post in the Yakima Herald Republic on Nov. 4 raises important questions.  Will the legalization of marijuana make it even easier for drug cartels to expand operations in our state?

Criminals have already exploited Oregon's medical marijuana law. In 2011, one in five marijuana-related traffic stops involved medical marijuana.

In addition, authorities say marijuana grown in the Pacific Northwest is of far greater quality, making it more potent and profitable.