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Manteca supplies Bay Area
90% of $15.6M of pot seized in 2015 was headed to dispensaries
PotbustASK 0432
Marijuana plants are removed from a warehouse on DuPont Circle last year by Manteca Police. - photo by Bulletin file photo

The lawn isn’t well-kept — it’s manicured.

The same goes for shrubs and flowers.

As far as the house itself, the outside is in pristine model condition.

What looks like a well-cared for McMansion in a Manteca or Lathrop neighborhood is sometimes a front for a burgeoning black market business — growing pot to supply Bay Area medicinal marijuana dispensaries.

“About 90 percent of the large grows (seized) last year in Manteca were for dispensaries,” noted Manteca Police Sgt. Chris Mraz.

And it’s a lucrative undertaking. With pot going at between $1,000 and $3,000 a pound depending on the THC levels and its quality, splitting the difference at $2,000 a pound means the 7,800 pounds of marijuana Manteca Police seized in 2015 was worth a conservative $15.6 million.

It’s conservative because growers supplying reputable dispensaries know their product is going to be put under the microscope by wholesale buyers for the co-ops looking for mites and testing for pesticides.

It’s a nice money making proposition for the growers.

But for unsuspecting landlords and others it is an extremely expensive proposition.

Police Chief Nick Obligacion noted once you get past the picture-perfect yard and the house beautiful façade and step inside a different picture emerges: Additional walls have been built. Walls have been knocked out. There are holes punched into the ceiling. Wires accessing power that has been illegally and dangerously obtained by bypassing the meter dangle all over.

And that’s just for starters.

“The humidity needed to grow the plants can lead to mold problems in walls and the attic,” the chief said. “The carpets have to be all ripped out.”

The damage is to every room of the house that has been reconfigured to grow plants save for the bathroom. That is where crop tenders usually sleep.

Obligacion said besides costing the landlord lost rent while the home is being repaired; in a number of cases the damage exceeds the coverage.

Add to that the huge amounts of stolen power that are absorbed as the cost of doing business by PG&E and passed on in power bills paid by law-abiding citizens.

“It (pot growing) isn’t a victimless crime,” the chief said.

Then there is the physically dangerous side. Mraz said nearly half of the grow operations Manteca Police bust yield a cache of weapons. In the past four years there have been three fatal shootings in Manteca tied into illegal marijuana activity including two during 2015.

It is against the backdrop of increased  grow houses in Manteca to supply Bay Area medical pot clinics that the City Council last week moved to ban allowing pot growing within the city limits effective as of Feb. 18. Those with valid California medical marijuana laws have been allowed to have up to 12 mature marijuana plants providing they were contained with structures as required under municipal law.

The growing tide of illegal grows to supply the insatiable appetite of the medicinal marijuana dispensaries was blurring the line separating them from medicinal grows.

Also, the state had passed a law that as of March 1 would have given Sacramento the ability to control what went on in Manteca in terms of medicinal pot growing and delivery services if the City Council had not acted.

Medicinal pot grow

enforcement has been

by letter of the law

For the past five years Obligacion said that the department has enforced the spirit of the law and not the letter. That means if medical marijuana plant cardholders exceeded the limit by several plants or else they weren’t being grown in a manner to avoid detection by others as outlined in the city rules, officers responding would give the individual time to correct the problem.

“We didn’t seize plants,” Obligacion said.

That only happened if on a follow up inspection the medical pot cardholder had not complied or if the operation in question blatantly exceeded the maximum number of plants allowed.

Two medical marijuana cardholders contacted by the Bulletin confirmed Oblligacion’s explanation of department policy. One of the two had plants stolen from a grow area in their backyard that didn’t 100 percent comply with the city rules. In both cases, the cardholders said they intend to comply with the change in the city ordinance and cease growing pot as of Feb. 18.

Obligacion said the department isn’t going to go knocking on doors Feb. 19 to see if people are complying.

“There is no medical pot database for grows,” the chief said.

 Police will find out about any medical marijuana grow after Feb. 18 the same way they do now — by neighbors complaining about smell and such.

Some charge that Manteca Police are heavy handed toward recreational users of pot that is still illegal in California but is only an infraction if the amount in a person’s possession an ounce/28.5 grams or less and not a misdemeanor.

Manteca issued

51 citations

in 2015 for pot possession

During 2015, Manteca issued 51 citations for such infractions.  Eleven of those where citations for possessing it in a vehicle which is a misdemeanor as opposed to an infraction for simple possession.

California has already essentially decriminalized small-time use of marijuana. The penalties for possessing it depend on age and the amount of marijuana that you have.

uAnyone under 21 convicted of possessing any amount of marijuana loses their drivers’ license for 12 months even if they are not convicted of driving under the influence. 

uAn adult with less than 28.5 grams or an ounce are treated as committing an infraction with a fine up to $100 and will not receive a criminal conviction. However, anyone who possesses less than that amount with the intent to sell can face felony charges.

uAnyone 18 or older with an ounce or less on school grounds will face misdemeanor charges and fines up to $500. They can serve up to 10 days in jail.

uPossession of an ounce of marijuana in a vehicle is different than a simple possession. It is charged as a misdemeanor, you will have a criminal record and you can be fined up to $100.

uHaving more than 28.5 grams but less than 100 grams is a misdemeanor with possible jail time up to six months and a fine of up to $500.