Growers converting suburban houses to marijuana
SACRAMENTO BEE May 21, 2006
Sacramento Police found at least 10 homes used
exclusively for pot cultivation in the last year
SACRAMENTO -- The
lawn is patchy and pocked with weeds. Overgrown rose
shaded windows suggest neglect. But inside the house
in suburban Sacramento, a professional gardener's
lighting and perfect growing conditions made the
residence an ideal marijuana farm, according to
Sacramento police. Almost every room in the
two-story home near an elementary school had been
adapted for the care and nurturing of almost 2,000
plants, authorities said.
operation is typical of what law enforcement says is
the newest trend in the marijuana trade -- growing
pot quietly and unseen in the midst of middle-class
"From the outside the
homes look normal, but inside they're strictly used
for marijuana cultivation," Sacramento Police
Detective Chou Vang said.
have discovered at least 10 houses used exclusively
for marijuana cultivation during the last year, Vang
said. In one case from 2005, four people, all in
their early 20s with connections to three homes,
were found guilty of multiple charges of marijuana
cultivation, said Sacramento Deputy District
Attorney Leslie Monahan, who prosecuted the case.
"They are literally
just raking in money. It is purely just profit,"
The trend is
relatively new to Sacramento, having swept south
from British Columbia and Ontario, Canada, where
home cultivation has been popular for years,
authorities said. The "marijuana grow houses" also
have started springing up in Florida and Puerto
Rico, Drug Enforcement Agency officials said.
In the Bay Area this
month, 12 people face charges of marijuana
cultivation after authorities found a vast network
of indoor hydroponic-type grows in three homes and
three warehouses in the East Bay and Santa Cruz,
U.S. Attorney officials said.
The farm in the
Sacramento residence came to the attention of police
May 11. A neighbor reported a prowler creeping
around the home about 8:10 p.m., Sacramento Police
Sgt. Terrell Marshall said.
Officers checked the
home and found an open back door, Marshall said.
They walked in and discovered 379 nearly mature
marijuana plants and 1,400 smaller plants in the
living room, dining room and four bedrooms. The
street value of the plants and equipment was almost
$1 million, he said.
Marshall said the
suspects are still at large.
The owner of the
home, Hung Dang, said his family purchased it four
years ago as a rental and inherited the tenants from
the previous owner. The family owns several rental
properties, he said, and did not have regular
contact with the renters or visit the property.
"I just found out
about it. I had no idea," Dang said.
officials said that the best way of stopping the
indoor growth is by educating homeowners and
neighbors about the problem.
"Police are becoming
a lot more effective at finding these grows as the
public becomes more aware of the problem," said
Constable Sal Baslione, a spokesperson for Niagara
Regional Police, a city in Ontario, Canada, of more
than 400,000 people. Baslione said his department
receives about two reports a month of marijuana
"It is a problem,
there's no doubt about that," Baslione said.
There are challenges
to growing hundreds of marijuana plants in a home
designed for growing families. Powerful lights must
simulate the movement of the sun. Drip systems must
be installed. Fans and timers are required. In the
case Monahan prosecuted, beams had been installed in
the ceilings to hold the sophisticated system.
And the equipment
burns far more energy than a family of four.
At the Sacramento
home, the growers tapped into a SMUD electric line
and hijacked power so their excessive energy usage
wouldn't register on the utility meter, Vang said.
"That can be
extremely dangerous," Vang said. "They had to know
what they were doing."
Indoor plants are
typically smaller than marijuana grown outdoors. But
they have other appeals, said Gordon Taylor,
assistant special agent in charge of the Sacramento
office for the DEA.
seeds are planted in April and harvested in
September, providing one yield each year. Indoor
plants grow much faster. They require only 60 to 90
days to cultivate and can be grown year-round,
"They're not going to
get as large a plant, but they make up for it by
getting four harvests a year," Taylor said.
Another benefit to
indoor cultivation is the plant buds have a higher
level of tetrahydrocannabinol, the main chemical in
marijuana, authorities said.
Growers in Western
Canada use indoor cultivation to produce highly
potent marijuana called "B.C. Bud." Outdoor buds
have a THC level of 8 percent, while B.C. Bud can
reach 20 percent, Taylor said.
potent but very expensive," he said.
The type of marijuana
found in the Sacramento home is not as potent as
B.C. Bud, Vang said. But it is stronger than outdoor
marijuana and sells at $5,000 to $7,000 a pound on
the street, Vang said.
Authorities do not
need agricultural expertise to understand the
lucrative," Vang said.