|Photo: Leila Avidani/Las Vegas Sun
|Marijuana grow house bust in Las Vegas: One of 112 so far this year
The bad economy in Las Vegas has meant opportunity for some clandestine cannabis cultivators. Las Vegas police have busted 112 marijuana grow houses this year, more than double the number raided in 2007.
With the Las Vegas economy sucking wind, a large and unprecedented number of homes are now empty and are rarely checked by police or the banks that now own them, reports Jackie Valley at the Las Vegas Sun.
Additionally, some financially desperate absentee owners and investors are renting to tenants without conducting background checks, according to Lt. Laz Chavez of the Metro Las Vegas Police Department.
Pot growers are even moving into commercial real estate, where the relaxed or absent background checks give them an “in,” reports Gus Lubin at the Business Insider. For example, police seized around 90 plants in a September raid of a large warehouse that neighboring tenants thought was a bakery. (Insert “getting baked” joke here.)
This year, police have seized 10,311 plants and what they claim is around $90,000 from 112 grow houses.
Nevada’s unemployment and foreclosure rates are both at record-breaking highs, and tighter security at the U.S.-Mexico border — “you can’t get marijuana across the border as easily as you used to,” according to Lt. Chavez — mean increased demand for domestically grown product, and potentially huge profits.
Chavez demonstrated his own deep ignorance of marijuana cultivation when he told the Sun that “hydroponic marijuana can contain four times the amount of THC as traditionally grown plants.”
Plant potency, of course, is heavily dependent on genetics, along with environmental factors such as light and nutrients, and is not directly related to whether the plants are traditionally grown in soil or through using hydroponic farming.
But that doesn’t sound nearly as threatening as claiming this hydroponic stuff is “four times stronger” automatically, and implying that it must therefore be somehow uniquely dangerous.
County Sheriff Doug Gillespie last year created a special team, Squad 6, to investigate grow houses, and police are hoping from “assitance” from snitch-inclined neighbors.
At Metro’s community forums, according to Chavez, officers discuss the signs of grow operations: covered windows, condensation on windows, excessive power consumption, use of air conditioning, overgrown yards, “smells coming from the house,” continuously running fans, a “lack of normal day-to-day activity” and warped blinds.
Holy fuck, going by those criteria my entire neighborhood is growing weed.
“These houses are very automated,” Chavez said. “Once you set up the grows, you can set up a timer for the lights to come on, the water.”
Police work with Nevada Energy’s Revenue Protection Team, which investigates power-theft cases that occur when grow houses make unauthorized taps into power lines.
In an obvious play for more taxpayer funding, Lt. Chavez claimed that “removing the plants, chemicals and light systems” can cost more than $10,000 for a larger home, “with an average bill of $7,000 to $8,000.” Yeah, right, lieutenant.
“The district attorney’s office will add these fees to the suspect’s fine, but very few, if any, ever pay their fines,” Chavez said with that studiedly world-weary, “you can’t count on dopers for anything” attitude.
To help tackle the “problem” they claim exists, law enforcement officials are — you guessed it! — asking the Legislature to reinstate even stiffer penalties and higher bails for cultivation.
Under current law, suspects arrested in connection with grow houses are charged with felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell.
The law was repealed four years ago because it failed to distinguish clearly between people cultivating hundreds of plants and those growing three or four plants for medical purposes, as allowed by Nevada law for authorized patients.
“We’re not interested in hurting anyone who’s sick or needs medicine,” Chavez claimed. “We want to be able to keep these criminal cells out of our communities.”