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Police: Medicinal pot plots trigger even more crime
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Marijuana plants seized from an illegal grow operation in Manteca that was not for the purpose of personal medicinal use. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca’s decision to allow the growing of marijuana for personal medicinal use has triggered a crime wave leading to home invasions, massive pot grows with as many as 700 plants, assaults, wholesale theft of power and water as well as neighborhood issues such as obnoxious smells.
Police Chief Nick Obligacion is asking elected leaders on Tuesday to pull the plug on allowing marijuana to be grown within the city limits for any purpose as well as adopt an ordinance that prohibits medical marijuana delivery services from operating in Manteca. Residents who have medical marijuana cards could still purchase pot at legal dispensaries outside of Manteca and bring it into the city for their own personal use.
The Manteca City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
The city in 2010 made it legal for individuals with medical marijuana cards issued by physicians to grow pot. The ordinance allows up to 24 plants for individuals that have medical marijuana cards and up to 99 plants where a collective or cooperative growing is allowed for medicinal purposes. The city law also restricts the location of all marijuana cultivation to inside secure, locked and fully enclosed strictures. Those rules are ignored on a wholesale basis.
“This is an issue of overall community safety and quality of life,” Obligacion said.
What is prompting the decision now to change the ordinance is a looming March 1, 2016 deadline. At that time if restrictions or bans on medical marijuana cultivation are not in place in cities and counties, the state will have “sole licensing authority for medical marijuana cultivation” under Assembly Bill 243.
The changes that staff is recommending to the city ordinance includes:
uThe addition of a ban on medical marijuana delivery services and all cultivation.
uThe addition of a ban on the transportation of medical marijuana by qualified patients or caregivers, except when transporting directly from a licensed dispensary to their own, or their patient’s place of residence.
uAn amendment to the definitions in the ordinance to comport with those in the medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.
uThe addition of a ban on the storage of medical marijuana in any parked vehicle.
No changes are recommended on the existing ban on dispensaries.
The proposed changes are consistent with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 governing medicinal marijuana.
San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore has indicated medicinal marijuana grows in non-incorporated areas of the county have served as a magnet for criminal activities leading to burglaries, robberies, home invasions, and shootings. The rural areas of the county have averaged at least one homicide connected with marijuana growing and sale each year. Lathrop also has several murders tied to marijuana growing.
“The City of Manteca has experienced similar activity and our rate of illicit marijuana grows is rising,” Obligacion noted in a report to the council.
In a five-month period ending Nov. 30, Manteca Police Street Crimes Unit has investigated multiple grows in excess of 100 plants including one that exceeded 700 plants. One of the grows yielded more than a ton of marijuana. Altogether more than 7,000 pounds of marijuana were seized during the five-month period.
“It is clearly not being grown for personal medicinal use,” Obligacion said.
Moore also stressed the growing environmental dangers of increased marijuana cultivation triggered in part by the allowance of medicinal marijuana grows that are used as a cover for illegal operations. That includes “harmful chemicals and containments from unapproved sources, resulting in potential harm to residents and the environment.”
The upswing in cultivation is also proving dangerous for investigating officers and the general public. Officers who investigate illicit marijuana operations often encounter booby traps, weapons, and armed individuals.
The investigations are also time consuming. Dangerous nuisance factors include odor, considerable stolen water and electrical usage, and the concern that children could unknowingly access marijuana products and accidently ingest them.
San Joaquin County and Lathrop — after exploring all options — decided to outright ban medical marijuana cultivation.
By banning the delivery of medicinal marijuana, Obligacion believes Manteca will avoid a spike in auto theft and carjacking.
The police chief expects overtime of police officers to rise some — but only for a brief period — as officers start eradicating known cultivation operations if the ordnance is changed. Obligacion indicated once those operations have been eliminated, he would expect costs to drop as fewer resources would be needed to inspect and monitor for legal compliance with city law.