City Beat

Hundreds of illegal pot houses close after Sacramento cracks down

Sacramento police broke up more than 600 illegal marijuana growing operations over a two-month period this year, arresting 10 people, issuing millions of dollars in fines and seizing nearly 5,000 plants.

In response to concerns from multiple City Council members, a team of SWAT officers conducted a 60-day operation beginning in August aimed at curtailing illegal pot growing inside homes across the city. The sweep touched nearly every corner of the city, from North Natomas to Meadowview.

On Tuesday, the Police Department will ask the City Council for $850,000 to continue the enforcement action through the first six months of 2018, according to a city staff report. The department wants to dedicate a team of three sergeants and 12 police officers to a specialized pot enforcement team, along with a city staffer tasked with removing marijuana and cultivation equipment from illegal grow houses.

By law, it is illegal to grow more than six marijuana plants inside a home in the city of Sacramento. However, police typically focus enforcement efforts on homes that have been converted into large-scale cultivation operations. Police are often tipped off to grow houses by high electricity bills and neighbor complaints.

The city sent 959 warning letters to homes suspected of having illegal grows. Of those, 614 were shut down after police inspected the homes.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby asked for an update on the city’s enforcement against illegal grow houses over the summer. She said some operations have set up in her North Natomas district in homes larger than 2,000 square feet; 187 warning letters went to property owners throughout Patrol District 1 that covers North Natomas and South Natomas during the 60-day enforcement period.

“What I want to do is to prevent a problem from becoming systemic,” Ashby said. “You don’t want to be the illegal marijuana grow corner. I want people to know that if they try (to grow pot illegally), they’re getting a (fine) and they’ll say, ‘It’s too hard in Sacramento’ and they leave.”

The most warning letters – 486 – were issued in Patrol District 6, which includes the Meadowview, Valley Hi and Parkway neighborhoods.

The city issued $6.8 million in fines during the 60-day operation, but so far has collected just $25,000, according to a city staff report. Police also served 12 search warrants and seized $15,000 in cash.

The city plans to use money it collects from permitted marijuana cultivation businesses and fines it collects from illegal operations to fund future enforcement, said Councilman Jay Schenirer.

More than 130 warning letters went to homes in a patrol district that includes Oak Park, East Sacramento, College/Glen and other neighborhoods on the southeastern city border. Schenirer, who represents the Oak Park area, said he hears “on a weekly basis, if not more” about illegal pot growing operations in his district.

“We know that illegal grows really breed crime in neighborhoods,” he said. “I think, overall, we have a long way to go, but I think (the 60-day enforcement effort) was a significant first step in ridding our neighborhoods of these illegal grows.”

Editor’s note (Nov. 21): This story has been corrected to reflect warning letter data based on Sacramento Police Department patrol districts. An earlier version mistakenly said the warning letter totals were based on City Council districts.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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