…In the city limits, South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler estimates there are 300 houses where marijuana is growing illegally with another 200 in the El Dorado County portion of the South Shore according to SLEDNET’s Matt Underhill. (SLEDNET stands for South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team, a joint drug enforcement task force)
No Area is Immune from Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations
In 2011, the City Council adopted an ordinance regulating the growing of marijuana in the City limits in response to the State’s passage of the Compassionate Care Act. They felt an ordinance was needed due to the large number of complaints concerning the smell associated with growing, the safety risks involved for the community, and the potential for crime in and around houses with marijuana growing operations inside. They said they wanted to balance the needs of patients and their caregivers with the morals and general welfare of the community.
In the city limits there are only 9 permitted marijuana grow operations in homes. Residential cultivation is only legal if the area where it is grown covers no more than 10% of a home’s square feet with a maximum of 200 square feet. The residential grow must also have a permit so it can be deemed safe with the correct wiring, filtration and security systems in place.
According to the ordinance, “a qualified patient or primary caregiver shall only be allowed to cultivate marijuana for their personal use and for the use of qualified patients.” Cultivation in a home is only allowed legally if the grower has a Residential Cultivation Permit. The permit verifies that the grower is a qualified patient or caregiver and requires an annual inspection by a building official and Fire Marshall. Owners of the homes must also give written permission if the person requesting the permit rents or leases the home.
The County ordinance allows for up to 200 square feet of indoor cultivation and outdoor cultivation up to 600 square feet depending on the zoning of the land. They also have safety and environmental requirements , permission of homeowner and the growers must have the home as their primary residence.
So far in 2014 there have been 13 documented cases of illegal grows in the City and 20 in the County. Law enforcement says they know the problem is much larger and are asking for the public’s help so they can address all of the illegal grow houses. The City has a form for people to anonymously report suspected illegal grows on their website: http://www.cityofslt.us/forms.aspx?FID=79 or call 530-541-6800. The County uses their anonymous tip link for reportshttp://www.edcgov.us/Government/Sheriff/WebForms/Anonymous_Crime_Tip.aspx. In either case, it will be determined if the home is growing legally, and if not they will investigate.
Underhill told South Tahoe Now that SLEDNET gets 6 to 12 complaints a week about marijuana grows in local neighborhoods. They investigate all of them but can only corroborate about a third of them.
Earlier this month, homes located on Gold Dust Trail, Jicarilla Drive and Pyramid Circle were all found to have marijuana grow operations. The grows on Jicarilla and Pyramid were determined to be operating within the provisions of the law but the power was shut off to both homes due to the electrical set up being out of code.
Liberty Utilities told South Tahoe Now that they couldn’t comment on how many grow houses they are called out to since they are public utilities.
Environmental and Safety Concerns
Not only does an indoor marijuana grow cause damage to the home, it also creates environmental and safety issues. Grow houses typically have such overloaded electrical circuits that fire is a major concern. Chief Gareth Harris of Lake Valley Fire Department, who is also the Fire Marshall, goes out on all illegal grow busts in the area. He said that one house had flames coming out of the weather head (the weatherproof service drop point where overheard wires come to a home).
Overloaded circuitry goes beyond the intended purpose and becomes a fire hazard. Ventilation of the houses are altered in order to release the excess heat. The plants thrive on Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and don’t like oxygen rich environments so grow houses adjust to accommodate. Three to four times the normal amount of CO2 is present when growing. Gas water heaters are vented into the growing room(s) instead of outside to keep more CO2 present.
In order to have healthy plants, home growing operations use pesticides such as Pyrethrin and Rotenone, fungicides that are sulfur based, ammonia and nitrate based fertilizers, insecticides and Silica based root stimulators. All of this ends up in the water system.
Many Northern California areas known for large marijuana growing operations, such as Humboldt County, are now expressing concern about the environmental nightmare they are facing due to growing. Not only are all of the chemicals involved being dumped into the environment, outdoor grows there are wiping out the watershed, clear cutting old growth forests, diverting water meant for parks, adding pollutants to the water system and killing off salmon (the 5 gallons of water a day a plant needs multiplied by millions of plants are drying up rivers such as the tributaries of the Eel River).
In California’s Contra Costa County there were 35 marijuana grow house fires in two years.
Typical Grow Operation in South Lake Tahoe
According to Chief Uhler, a typical indoor marijuana cultivation in South Lake Tahoe produces 24,000 grams of marijuana a year. If the grower uses four joints a day this leaves an excess of 51 pounds which he says goes beyond the scope how much is needed if a legal “caregiver” by law.
How to Tell a Grow House is in your Neighborhood
• The smell of marijuana growing is a big giveaway to most, but it only smells during a part of the grow cycle.
• When a grow house is being set up there will be sheet rock and lumber brought in yet no visible signs of building.
• Curtains or blinds always shut and never opened.
• Bars on windows and/or doors.
• Garbage not left out.
• Residents not doing the typical things like working in the yard or staying outside for any amount of time.
• Supplies such as dirt, water barrels and planting chemicals brought to the house without any visible signs of landscaping outside.
• Improvised vents coming out of a house.
• No snow building up on a roof due to excess heat inside or excessive steam coming out of vents.
• Exterior stains – signs of sweating, condensation, staining or wet spots on the siding or foundation.
• Unusual lighting and/or lights on all night.
• Visible water and/or electrical cords.
• Humming sounds from air conditioners, fans, generators.
• Booby traps and surveillance cameras.
• Unusual traffic patterns of people going to and from house.
• Power surges.
Indoor Grows Cause Tens of Thousands of Dollars of Damage
In many cases, homeowners have no clue their renters …
Read More here: http://southtahoenow.com/story/09/27/2014/marijuana-grow-houses-becoming-problem-south-lake-tahoe