Home-grown marijuana challenges Arizona police

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Jun 21, 2007
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More than 2,300 Arizona residents have state permits to grow marijuana in their homes - for now. That will end in a few months when medical-marijuana dispensaries start opening and household gardeners must pull the plug on their grow lights or face criminal charges if they live within 25 miles of a dispensary.

But it's unclear who will enforce the shutdown, and spokesmen for local law-enforcement agencies say they expect that will be a challenge.

The state Department of Health Services began issuing the growing permits in April. DHS spokesman Laura Oxley said it will notify holders when the permits are no longer valid but will not inspect homes for compliance. That will be up to police if they suspect illegal activity, she said.

Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, said the law was never meant to promote home cultivation. Doing it without a state permit is a criminal offense that carries stiff penalties, including possible fines and incarceration.

"I wouldn't think a person would want to take the risk," he said.

Law-enforcement agencies across the Valley are grappling with how and under what circumstances they will check on suspected illegal-marijuana-growing operations. Most say they have no plans to investigate addresses of expired permits routinely, and there must be a complaint or strong evidence of a crime before they would try to inspect a home. They agree that separating legal from illegal activity under the voter-approved medical-marijuana law will be difficult.

Patients who had a marijuana prescription when the law took effect last month can't buy it from legal vendors yet because the state won't be approving dispensary sites until August. They can, however, apply for home-cultivation cards available to anyone who isn't within 25 miles of a dispensary. Growing must be indoors and is limited to 12 plants.

According to commercial sites that sell lights and other equipment for indoor cultivation, growing setups can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos said it is puzzling why anyone would invest time and money in an indoor setup to use it only for a few months or risk criminal charges by continuing the cultivation.

So far, 2,315 Arizona residents have one-year state-issued cards to grow marijuana at home for personal use, although DHS officials say it is unlikely all are doing it.

Spokesmen for several Valley police agencies, including Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe and Scottsdale, said they have no plans to check homes on the DHS permit list routinely where residents may have expired marijuana-growing cards.

"The law prohibits police from using the fact that a person has a medical-marijuana card, by itself, to establish probable cause or reasonable suspicion of a crime," Chandler Detective Frank Mendoza said.

Neighbors who complain about suspected illegal drug activity may call police and spur an investigation. However, DHS information on marijuana-growing cards is not public record, so neighbors have no way of checking whether the house next door once had permission and doesn't any more. Police agencies, on the other hand, have access to the DHS records, including the names and addresses of those authorized to use or grow it and permit expiration dates.

Sgt. Steve Carbajal, Tempe police spokesman, said the department will likely use DHS data as "investigative tools" if there's a complaint or if police suspect illegal activity.

There must be strong evidence that a crime is being committed before police initiate an investigation into reputed illegal marijuana-growing, said Mendoza and Scottsdale police spokesman David Pubins.

Glendale police are discussing the challenges of marijuana enforcement under the new law with their legal department, and "we do not have absolute answers right now," said Sgt. Brent Coombs, a department spokesman.

Martos, the Phoenix spokesman, said home use of medical marijuana brings a myriad of enforcement challenges, including that the mere detection of marijuana odor is no longer a clear-cut indication of criminal activity.

Whatever police agencies say their plans are now could change in coming months as medical marijuana becomes more accessible, DHS spokeswoman Carol Vack said. "How they bust people for marijuana might change. There are a lot of gray areas, a lot of undefined areas in this law," Vack said.

Sounds like the American way: only let large corporates do business, screw the ordinary guy. Disgusting.
Back before the Great depression, 98% of the country was self-employed. Now it is like 30%? I might be botching that last number up. If I did, I made it to high. Might be because I am ...

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