Growing cannabis comes part and parcel with several occupational hazards — and being raided by police is perhaps one of the worst hazards among them.
The good news is that, due to sweeping legislation of the cannabis industry, most growers are unlikely to experience a police raid. Of the approximately 100 growers I know, only three have been raided. So, while I’m not trying to create paranoia, I am wanting to address the subject of awareness so as to enhance grower safety in our cannabis community.
Full disclosure: Unfortunately, I’m one of the three growers who’ve been raided. What stings most is I could have avoided the bust by listening to my intuition, noticing the mounting evidence that a bust was imminent, and dismantled my grow op before my door was beaten down.
Here are the mistakes I made, so you can avoid them and reduce your risk of a future raid.
Pay Close Attention To Your Grow-House Security
One big mistake I made was being lazy about reviewing my security camera recordings. I spent a lot of money having a licensed security contractor put camouflaged, infrared-equipped, wide-angle cameras around the entire perimeter of my house. The cameras feed a digital system that records and time codes the imagery. I can access the cameras live, as well as the system’s recordings, via the internet.
Whenever I remembered to do it, which, to be honest, wasn’t often enough, I would closely watch recordings of my grow-house exterior.
During my cannabis growing season that was cut short by the police raid, the video recordings showed me a neighbor letting her dog poop on my lawn, a kid violating federal law by putting a flyer in my mailbox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to my door, even though I have a prominent sign at the entrance to my home that reads: “No soliciting of any kind.”
As you could imagine, watching security recordings isn’t exactly an exciting use of my time. When at first I didn’t see anything that alarmed me, I slacked off on my video monitoring during the last weeks of that fateful season. And because of my carelessness, I ultimately missed out on recordings that would have easily alerted me that I was under police surveillance.
Because of this turn of events, my advice to marijuana growers is this: If you don’t have video security, get a system installed now, and when you have it fully set up, be sure to watch all the recordings your video system stores.
How Police Surveil Cannabis Growers
Except in the most unusual of circumstances, police officers can’t enter your home without first showing a judge solid evidence of a crime being committed there, and then for the judge to be convinced of the evidence enough to sign a search warrant for your property.
After I was raided and arraigned, and once I was released on bail, my lawyer legally obtained the police file so I could examine the chronology of the investigation leading up to the search warrant. The whole mess started when a confidential informant narked me out to police, who then initiated surveillance of my grow house.
Reviewing the recordings for that pre-raid time frame, I was lucky that the police hadn’t trashed my video recording system. They often do so to hide any evidence of how they conducted the raid.
One video recording showed a man — it was later revealed he was a plainclothes police officer — walking onto my property, going up to my fence, and looking over it.
He was trespassing, which is technically illegal. However, I found out in court that police officers can get away with pretty much anything.
Another video recording showed the same man walking very slowly past my house at night, staring at my home as he did so.
I discovered yet another recording showing that same man, this time carrying a cane, dropped off by an unmarked car before dawn on a day I put my municipal trash can out at the curb.
He tilted my trash can to a near-horizontal position, and used his cane to poke around inside it. Cops are allowed to search your garbage cans without a warrant. If they find even a fraction of a gram of cannabis, or paraphernalia or evidence of a grow room (such as grow-light bulbs, fertilizer bottles and grow op supplies), that evidence could be enough to convince a judge to sign a search warrant.
If I had been watching my recordings like I should have been, I would have seen this before the raid, known that the police were on to me, and I would have preemptively shut down the grow op. The cops would have shown up, knocked my door down — and come up empty-handed.
Then I would have sued them for home invasion.
Infrared Scanners & Electricity Company Spies
Even if I had viewed my security archives in a timely manner, I wouldn’t have known that police officers using handheld infrared detection devices had surveilled my grow op. They were also using their noses, hoping to detect the odor of cannabis. I learned these facts from the police files, not from my video recordings.
There was one other video capture I wish I had seen before the raid: A van from the local electricity company pulled up in my driveway. A worker got out and went to the gate on the side of my house where my electricity meter is.
Fortunately, the gate was locked, so the individual was unable to trespass further beyond that point. He stood on tiptoes, peering over the gate. The case file indicates he was sent by police to look for overt evidence I was stealing electricity, as some cannabis growers do.
If I had been stealing electricity, there would have been illicit heavy wiring and unauthorized electrical equipment attached inline to the meter. If the worker had seen electricity theft, this alone would have justified an emergency “public safety” search warrant.
According to the search warrant affidavit, what convinced the judge to grant a search warrant was the confidential informant’s tip, and electricity consumption that was “way higher than average, based on a comparison of suspect’s home with others in his neighborhood.”
Beware Police In Hovering Helicopters
I didn’t notice pedestrian police spies before the raid because I wasn’t reviewing my security recordings thoroughly or often enough. But there were other obvious signs of an impending raid — and I didn’t have to view videocam recordings to notice them.
The ominous happenstance that made my blood run cold was the sudden appearance on two consecutive days of a helicopter that made an arc around my neighborhood, with my house seeming to be in the center of that arc.
The first time the copter was overhead, I couldn’t see it well enough to determine if it was operated by law enforcement. It was moving fast in peak daylight, so the contrast between helicopter and bright sky shaded its markings.
During the second flyover, I put a telephoto zoom lens on my camera, snuck out my back door and hid under the eaves, camera at the ready. The copter was only a couple hundred feet above the treetops and low enough so I could photograph it from a semi-horizontal angle.
Then, the helicopter did something that should have immediately caused me to go into grow-room shutdown mode: It stopped circling, maneuvered directly over my house, and hovered there for about two minutes. The noise was deafening and I could feel the wind from its rotors.
I stepped from under the eaves to the shade of a tree and snapped more photos. The pilot may have seen me, because at that moment the copter abruptly stopped hovering and zoomed away.
I ran inside my house and transferred the camera photos to my computer so I could properly examine them.
It was indeed a police chopper. Is it any wonder that I immediately became angry, anxious and afraid?
The police files revealed that the helicopter was involved in raid prep and also looking for any signs of outdoor cannabis plants.
Your Cannabis Grow-Room Emergency Shutdown Protocol
Growers who don’t like leaving anything to chance should have a formal, rehearsed, effective action plan in place for rapidly dismantling a grow op when they feel a bust is imminent. If you don’t have a cannabis grow-room emergency shutdown plan, make one right now!
My emergency plan includes:
- Burying my cash, valuables, paraphernalia, cannabis seeds, dried and cured crop, and cannabis extracts in an underground bunker that’s made of metal and camouflaged.
- Evacuating my plants for temporary safekeeping at the grow op of a trusted grow partner.
- Vacuuming the entire house several times.
- Dismantling my grow op as much as possible.
- Storing my cannabis-growing equipment off-site.
This action plan is time-consuming, disruptive, costly and strenuous. Moving the plants off-site via road is risky and requires that someone agree to store the plants beforehand.
The helicopter surveillance spooked me bad, but like a fool, I talked myself out of fully implementing the emergency plan, and one reason is my grow partner had no room to temporarily house my plants.
Another reason I didn’t enact my emergency shutdown procedure is that my crop was trellised and in week three of bloom phase. Trying to disentangle flowering cannabis plants from their trellis and move them without seriously injuring or killing them is virtually impossible in that situation, especially if done in a hurry.
It’s funny how your mind operates when you’ve got something unpleasant to deal with. I should have chopped all those plants down, bagged them, and disposed of them off-site, while also implementing the other relevant parts of my emergency protocol.
Instead, my mind grabbed onto the fact that the helicopter didn’t come back a third time (at least, not until the day of the raid). So all I did was bury my valuables in my camouflaged bunker and keep on growing. I started watching all my video recordings from that day forward, but was too stupid to go back and do it retrospectively.
What It’s Like To Experience A Cannabis Grow-Room Raid
My refusal to prepare for the worst-case scenario came back to haunt me. Three weeks after I saw the helicopter hovering over my house, and at six in the morning, a police task force used a handheld battering ram to knock down my door.
I’d awakened seconds earlier when a battalion of police vehicles pulled up in front of my house. I already knew what was going to happen, even before it happened. I knew I was going to jail.
The police didn’t knock on the door and proclaim that they had a search warrant, like they’re supposed to do. They just broke in.
In court, my attorney argued that this no-knock raid should disqualify the search and any evidence seized from it. But of course, the judge ruled against me.
The raid and arrest were as sickening and costly as you could imagine. My cannabis crop was in late peak bloom phase and I was looking forward to harvest. The raid stole my entire season from me.
Perhaps one of the worst things about being busted was being perp walked in front of my gawking neighbors, with my hands painfully handcuffed behind my back, thrown roughly into the back of a police car, and driven away.
All total, the raid, bail, attorney, fines, fees, and loss of my crops and most of my hydroponics grow equipment cost me around $11,000.
And I’m now a felon cannabis grower, which has hurt my life in many ways, such as when I try to find a job or housing.
Due to the shame of being arrested, which disgraced me in the eyes of my law-abiding neighbors, and the fact that law enforcement obviously knew where I lived, I had to move out of state and start all over again after my probation was complete.
The raid was the worst disaster of my life, and I’ll admit that I’ve never fully recovered from it.
Karma Visits A Cannabis Snitch
I’ll never forgive or forget that the confidential police informant responsible for my raid was someone in the cannabis industry.
She’d been busted shoplifting cosmetics while working on the grow op of an associate of mine. That same associate had previously opened his big mouth and told her my real name and that I was a grower. She traded this information about me to police and prosecutors so she could get a plea deal for her shoplifting conviction.
My grow associate, feeling guilty about his role in getting me busted, admitted who narked me out and why. He requested that I not seek revenge on the snitch, and I honored that request, especially when he gave me a sincere apology — and generous monetary compensation.
Later on, he told me that the snitch had done the same dirty deed to another grower, who retaliated, let’s just say, quite effectively.
Once A Cannabis Grower, Always A Cannabis Grower
If the government’s goal in spending so much time and money on conducting cannabis raids is to discourage people from growing, these actions against me certainly had the opposite effect.
After I was convicted of felony cannabis cultivation, I still needed marijuana in my life and wanted to grow it, but was fully aware of how much trouble it could get me into if I pursued my cultivation career. I tried to gain non-cannabis employment, but nobody wanted to hire a convicted dope grower. I couldn’t even get a job interview. I was now officially exiled from normal society, an antisocial criminal.
So, I was forced to go back to growing cannabis — the only thing I could do to earn a living. I probably would have started growing again anyway, after moving to a different location. But the fact that I couldn’t get a legal job sealed the deal. I guess once a grower, always a grower.
To sum it all up, when you’re growing cannabis, be smarter than I was. Pay close attention to your surroundings and to your security. If you see legitimate warning signs or have a strong, persistent gut intuition that you’re going to be raided, immediately dismantle your grow op and get away from that location.
Please don’t just hope for the best. Don’t be in denial. Don’t tell yourself (like I did) that your cannabis crop cycle is almost over and if you could just get through until harvesting is finished without getting busted, all will be right with the world.
Be safe, rather than sorry. I sure wish I had.