It is against the law in Oregon to possess marijuana, to sell or even give away marijuana, and to grow marijuana (But See: Medical Marijuana). It is commonplace, however, that people in Oregon do grow marijuana. Considerable police resources are directed at uncovering grow operations and busting the people behind these grows. If you are growing marijuana, or if you are considering growing marijuana, it is important that you know that growing marijuana is illegal, and if you are caught, you risk imprisonment, probation, and criminal forfeiture of your property.
How Marijuana Grows are Discovered
Part 1: The Signature Smell
Pot is smelly. People who are around growing marijuana plants all the time can become desensitized to the scent, but for others the scent ranges from detectible to overwhelming. When plants are immature, the smell might be mistaken for something else, but when plants begin to flower, or after they have been harvested, the overwhelming scent of marijuana is unmistakable to those who know it.
This is the largest factor in the discovery of marijuana grow operations. Despite a grower’s best efforts at de-scenting, masking or concealing, or creative ventilation, the marijuana grow will be detectible by anyone experienced with marijuana. People walking by on the street can often tell where there is a grow operation. Neighbors can detect the scent, and easily determine the direction it’s coming from. People who like you, and people who don’t like you, can smell the scent of a grow operation. Any of these people can pose a threat.
Part 2: Growing Equipment and Behavior
There are other signs that indicate a grow operation is in progress: purchases of greenhouse equipment or potting soil, unusual electricity consumption, tailings of discarded potting soil, windows and doors that are sealed and covered with plastic, cardboard or foil, secondary vent fans, discarded plant matter, cash spending habits, frequent and various visitors who stay only briefly, and bright light leaking out from behind closed/sealed windows. None of these is as noticeable as the smell.
There are two primary ways a marijuana grow is discovered by the police. Most frequently, the police are tipped off by a neighbor, a wandering busybody, or a supposed friend of the grower. The supposed friend may receive money, favors, preferential treatment, or reduced jail time on another charge in exchange for information about a grow operation. You never know what’s going to happen, and you never know who you can trust.
Next most frequently, police are in the area and smell the grow operation, or see some of the other telltale signs.
In both cases, the next step in the investigation is probably…
The Knock & Talk
Police do not need a warrant, or probable cause, to come to your door and ask you questions about a marijuana grow. They can, and frequently do, saunter up onto the front stoop of a house where they suspect marijuana is growing, to knock on the door and simply say, “we know there’s weed growing here, can we take a look?” The officers may be more forceful, saying things like, “We can do this the hard way, and come back here with a warrant, or you can let us in and we’ll make sure it goes easier for you.” They can even say, “Look, I’m sure you’re only growing a couple of plants. If you let us come in and check, we won’t charge you.” No matter how the subject is broached, the choice is up to you: do you want to give up your rights, or do you want to stand on your rights?
”Come on in!”
If you let the officers inside, they will search your house and they are very likely to charge you with every crime they can possibly support based upon the evidence they discover. They will not “let you off easy,” no matter what they promised at the door. They will seize the plants, search for drying or dried marijuana, seize paraphernalia, packaging materials and cash, and they will initiate a criminal case against you.
”I’m sorry, I won’t consent to a Search.”
If you don’t consent to a search, the police officers have to make a case to a judge to support the issue of a warrant to search your house. This means “probable cause,” and it’s pretty easy to cobble together enough facts to demonstrate probable cause. Usually, the judge will be more comfortable issuing the warrant if there are reliable sources of information corroborating the officer’s subjective assessment of the situation. “I think he’s growing marijuana because I smell it and because he wouldn’t let me search” is not a strong warrant application. “I think he’s growing marijuana because I smell it, I see bags of potting soil in the backyard, and the neighbor has made three phone calls to the police to complain about an excessive smell of marijuana coming from this house.” This is a stronger warrant application.
Your best bet is ALWAYS to refuse the search. NEVER make statements to the police about their suspicions.
When a police officer is asking to search your home, it’s a good time to call an experienced criminal lawyer.
Sometimes the police will obtain the warrant without a Knock & Talk, and simply show up at a house where they suspect a marijuana grow is underway. If this happens, know your rights and remain silent! Then call an experienced criminal lawyer.