Reefer reaping – At harvest time, pot busts aren’t so cut and dried
What’s green, more than 8 feet tall and prime for the picking throughout the next two months?
Here’s a hint: Even with a medical “recommendation,” too much of it can land you behind bars.
September and October make up the prime harvesting season for marijuana, as the buds are maturing, and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force will no doubt be dropping by several of the county’s illegal gardens.
Finding patches of pot plants isn’t the hardest part. The true challenge for local authorities these days is determining the legality of each plot.
Many marijuana growers get a recommendation – the official term for a medicinal pot prescription – from doctors. Instead of using the drug solely for themselves, some growers produce enough to sell, which is illegal.
“We don’t do that many (busts) anymore,” said task force Sgt. Bill Evans. “It’s because of the recommendations from doctors. A lot of people grow marijuana.”
California’s Proposition 215 allows marijuana to be grown and possessed – but not sold – if the marijuana is recommended by a doctor. The federal government, however, has not legalized any marijuana, even for medical purposes.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted in July that federal laws trump those of California and eight other states that allow medicinal marijuana. The House also voted to continue prosecuting people who use marijuana in those states.
Nevada County has tried to seek a middle ground, Evans said. Medicinal growers are allowed a maximum of two pounds each year. Previously, another provision required that growers possess no more than 10 plants at a time, but this policy is being re-worked, he said.
“We’re finding plants can produce four pounds on one plant,” he said. “(The county is) trying to revise it to be fair, but stop what appears to be abuse by marijuana growers.
“Many people claim it’s for personal reasons, but it is to make a profit,” he said.
Unlike some parts of the country where illegal marijuana “grows” – as task force members are hidden in wooded areas in national forests, most grows in Nevada County are on private property.
“If you are in the forest and find a grow, get out of their fast,” Evans said, adding that eventually, those types of grows will become a problem here.
The sheriff’s department is alerted to most of the grows by people who either see the plants or smell them.
“Neighbors call in a lot because they don’t like the pungent odor,” Evans said. “Many citizens don’t have knowledge about the medical marijuana issues.”
However, it is difficult to tell how many of the raids conducted by the narcotics task force are purely legal or illegal, he said.
The team has not had any significant busts as of yet this fall, but last year, there were two in late September and early October.
On Sept. 24, 2003, two simultaneous raids of homes on Old Pond Road and Kentucky Flat Road yielded 50 large plants and six arrests.
The investigation of the illegal grows began two months before the raids, when someone reported seeing the garden at the Old Pond property. Authorities located several recommendations for the medicinal use of the drug but realized the same suspects also had prescriptions for the Kentucky Flat property.
Authorities confiscated 1,321 pounds of pot and destroyed the drug. In addition to the plants, other confiscated items included hashish, materials used to make the drug, and a Browning semi-automatic .22-caliber rifle that was found next to a mattress in the garden.
“Many people will defend their marijuana gardens with weapons,” Evans said
Pot grown in the county can reach as much as $4,000 per pound of buds, he said, and it is not uncommon for someone to sleep by the plants at night to watch over them.
From the six arrests, three members of one family faced the most serious charges. Elisabeth Petros, and her sons Nye and Tyler Petros, were sentenced Aug. 2. The mother was sentenced to three years of probation and community service for a charge of possession of marijuana. Nye and Tyler Petros were each sentenced to 120 days in jail and three years’ supervised probation for charges of opening a place to sell marijuana. Other marijuana-related charges were dropped as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
The second major raid occurred on Oct. 8, 2003, on Old Downieville Highway.
Again, a resident who noticed the strong aroma of ripe marijuana plants alerted the sheriff’s department. An investigation and raid led to the arrest of Michael Edward Schreiber on charges of planting and cultivating the drug.
Schreiber had a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal marijuana, but Evans said at the time that the recommendation did not explain why he had 30 plants – three times the legal limit in the county at the time.
Nine of the plants were kept in an indoor garden, where buds can be harvested year-round. Some of the 30 plants were as tall as 6 feet and as wide as 5 feet.
Schreiber now faces charges of unlawful cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. If he does not take a plea bargain Monday, the case will go to trial the following day.
Almost one year after his arrest, Schreiber maintains his innocence, and said Thursday that he was simply following the directions of his recommendation.
“The guidelines (Nevada County) set is not the law,” he said. “(The allowable amount of marijuana) can’t be the same for everyone.”
Schreiber’s attorney, Stephen Munkelt, said Thursday that if the case goes to trial, he has a solid defense, showing that Schreiber was authorized to grow all of the marijuana that was seized from him.
“Michael is sincere in his use,” Munkelt said. “This is a typical conflict between the medical marijuana law and the law enforcement.”
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