City Beat

Sacramento sees rise in illegal marijuana grow houses. City says 1,000 are operating.

Marijuana grow house crime scene after double homicide in south Sacramento

Sacramento Police Department spokeswoman Linda Matthew describes the details of the shooting on the 5900 block of 68th Street Sunday. Two people are dead after an attempted home invasion on an illegal marijuana grow, Matthew said.
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Sacramento Police Department spokeswoman Linda Matthew describes the details of the shooting on the 5900 block of 68th Street Sunday. Two people are dead after an attempted home invasion on an illegal marijuana grow, Matthew said.

Sacramento police detectives serving a search warrant at a Land Park home Tuesday made a potentially explosive discovery – a “very sophisticated” hash oil lab, authorities said.

Such illegal operations typically involve using butane to extract hash oil from marijuana plants and create a highly potent resin that can be smoked. Labs sometimes explode, injuring or killing those involved.

Sacramento police are increasingly encountering illegal marijuana operations in residential neighborhoods throughout the city. In July alone, Sacramento police have discovered at least a half dozen. And those operations have been linked to serious incidents, including home invasion robberies and police chases, according to police records.

Joe Devlin, the city’s new marijuana policy czar, estimates there could be 1,000 illegal growing operations in Sacramento and has called for the city to increase its enforcement. His office is drafting an ordinance to allow a maximum of six marijuana plants per household – down from the current 400-square-foot canopy limit. The ordinance would also increase penalties on unsanctioned grow houses and allow the city to destroy marijuana plants that exceed the six-plant limit.

As residents express increasing alarm, the City Council is taking notice.

Last week, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby asked the city manager, city attorney, and the police and fire departments to establish an “urgent plan of action to address this issue.”

“The existence of large amounts of unregulated marijuana product has been an attraction for organized crime and criminal conduct,” Ashby said. “It’s a clear threat to public safety.”

The Sacramento Police Department is assembling a unit of officers that will be assigned to investigating and enforcing illegal operations in residential neighborhoods, said Deputy Chief Ken Bernard.

“We know it’s a serious issue and we want to address it,” he said.

The planned enforcement on residential marijuana activities comes as entrepreneurs are lining up to convert Sacramento warehouse space into legal growing operations, anticipating a strong demand once recreational marijuana sales become legal next year.

The city plans to eventually hire three police sergeants and 12 officers who will be assigned to “writing search warrants, conducting surveillance, making vehicle stops, arresting suspects and writing reports” related to illegal marijuana operations, according to a budget staff report. Those officers will be funded largely by fees collected from permitted marijuana cultivation businesses.

Councilman Eric Guerra also wants the city to explore whether it can seize control of homes used for growing. He said operations in his district have been busted, only to return in the same houses.

“We need to have a much stronger and aggressive approach on this,” he said. “We need to be completely bird-dogging this issue.”

This month has seen a wave of serious incidents at alleged marijuana houses.

On July 12, someone drove a car through the garage door of a home directly across the street from a neighborhood park in Meadowview. Police later found marijuana being grown inside the home. Twelve days later, a suspect drove through a garage to get inside a home less than a mile away. Again, officers discovered the home had been used to grow weed, but were unable to find a homeowner or resident.

On July 20, officers got into a brief chase with a car coming from a home near American Lakes Elementary School in South Natomas. Officers stopped the chase, but returned to the home where the pursuit began. The residents of the home – which had been converted into a marijuana grow house – had been robbed, according to a police report.

And on July 18, a resident reported suspicious activity at a home on Ortega Street, a few blocks from Mark Twain Elementary School in the Tallac Village neighborhood of south Sacramento. As officers questioned one resident, another “ran out the back of the residence with over 20 pounds of processed marijuana,” according to a police report. The house was allegedly being used to cultivate weed and both residents were arrested.

In the Land Park case, officers immediately retreated from the home on Freeport Boulevard, near Markham Way, and called for backup from a drug task force trained in dismantling hash oil labs. The sound of sirens filled the neighborhood, and part of Freeport Boulevard was shut down for a chunk of the afternoon commute.

“I would never expect something like that to be here,” said Sarah Canfield, whose family lives around the corner. “That’s just shocking to me.”

If you are 21, you can grow marijuana in California. But the rules vary by city. Here is what’s legal in Sacramento if you want to grow pot.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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