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Illegal Marijuana Grow Operations On Rise In Sacramento Area

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Illegal marijuana grow operations are on the rise in the Sacramento area, according to law enforcement. The problem is spreading into neighborhoods despite recent laws allowing the legal cultivation of pot.

Right now, it is legal to grow six marijuana plants for personal use inside your home if you live in the city limits. That number is nine if you live in the county. Law enforcement is concerned with the larger commercial operations happening in residential neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, the Sacramento City Council legalized permitted cultivation in specific areas in the city. Sacramento County has banned all marijuana-related businesses for the time being.

Once a week, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department goes door-to-door for marijuana compliance checks. Homes are identified based on gathered intel or neighborhood complaints. And most times, they're let inside where they find hundreds of plants. Rooms turned into greenhouses.

So how common are the illegal marijuana home grows?

Within the city limits, officials say there may be more than 1,000 commercial operations. In the county more than 600. On one South Sacramento street alone, the sheriff's department identified seven problem houses.

Deputy Chief Andrew Miller says it's trending in the wrong direction.

"There are hundreds of them in south Sacramento," said Miller.

In 2015, just one division, the Sheriff's department narcotics team, seized 4,500 marijuana plants. Last year, that number ballooned to more than 16,000 plants.

When asked if the department is able to keep up given the resources they have, Miller replied, "honestly no we're not."

"By the time you collect evidence, book everything, it's a pretty lengthy process," Miller explained.

The sheriff's department issues violations to homes that are not in compliance with the law. But they don't seek a search warrant to prosecute each case, Miller says they trace and track the smaller operations to try and unearth whoever may be running a larger scale grow.

The grows are hiding in neighborhoods and near community parks.

"[Home grows] attract home invasion style robberies, assaults, threats, you name it," said Miller.

Even murders. Last month two people were shot and killed during a break-in on 68th Street. The home was a converted grow house. A similar scene on Mandy Drive in 2016, a man was found dead inside an illegal grow house.

Fires are also a concern. Unlicensed technicians install shoddy electrical work.

"These are their wires that feed into the house for the grow," explained a SMUD technician on scene.

Heat lamps can run 24 hours a day.

"It's unsafe. Just the fire hazard alone," said Miller.

The grow operations can take a toll on the homes themselves.

"The difficult thing with marijuana grows is that the community often doesn't know they are there," said Ryan Lundquist, a residential home appraiser.

Lundquist says the growers are doing a better job concealing the operation.

"Neighbors don't smell it," said Lundquist, "you'd never expect that there was marijuana growing there."

He says the home may tell a different story, with a marijuana history.

"There are some holes in the sheet rock here," said Lundquist pointing to a picture of a former grow house.

Electrical manipulation is another clue.

"The walls are dirty, it looks like something's maybe been growing there," said Lundquist, "maybe there is some moisture damage."

The grows are a nuisance neighbor next door.

"They grow their crop, they make their money and then sell it," said Miller.

Law enforcement is working through the weeds to take them down.

Miller says if you think there may be a home grow in your neighborhood you can call the sheriff's department. He says people can look for homes that always have their blinds closed, many different security measures, and sporadic visitors.

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