Pot grow damages rental home | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Pot grow damages rental home

Matthew Renda

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – While the South Lake Tahoe City Council continues to mull banning medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits, one rental property owner expressed outrage at finding a grow operation in a house he rented to a couple who were medical marijuana patients.

“Marijuana grow operations are all over our town, and they are infesting our neighborhoods,” wrote Steve Crupi, owner of a rental property in Meyers, in a letter to the city council.

Crupi discovered a marijuana grow operation in a family owned rental house in Meyers. While the operation had only been running for a few months, it caused over $10,000 in damange, according to Crupi.

The tenants drilled holes in the electrical box and walls of the garage to run electrical wires necessary for the project, Crupi said. The grow operation also overloaded the electrical system and created significant moisture damage, which cultivated an environment for mold and other dangerous toxins, according to Crupi.

“I am told that there are no laws to protect us from this – it is just an issue between tenant and landlord,” Crupi wrote in the letter. “This is currently a ‘legal grow’ because our tenants have prescriptions for marijuana. The only current legal issue is the vandalism that these tenants have caused.”

Jeff Catchings of the South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team said his hands are tied by Proposition 215 – a California State law enacted on Nov. 5, 1996, which concerns the medical use of marijuana.

“It absolutely kills me that I can’t do more for the people victimized by the grow operations,” he said. “When growers do not have a prescription or its obvious they are doing it for profit rather than personal use, we’ve taken the cases to juries. The feedback we get from juries is ‘Why bother with another marijuana case.'”

Catchings and his department have shifted tactics, instead of attempting to prosecute marijuana cultivation, they are opting for felony vandalism.

“We have prosecuted four felony vandalism cases in conjunction with marijuana grow operations this July alone,” Catchings said.

Catchings said the new prosecution strategy makes the tenants liable for damages in association with grow operations.

“Growers set up false walls, ruin the foundation, drill holes in the walls while creating a moist environment that allows for the growth of mold,” said Catchings. “Plants like these are not meant to grow indoors with dry-wall. You ever seen a greenhouse with dry-wall in it?”

Virginia Huber, Tahoe Division Manager of the El Dorado Department of Environmental Health, said her department has received several complaints regarding mold associated with marijuana grow operations.

“It definitely is a concern,” she said. “The moisture provides a perfect habitat for mold growth.”

Catchings said he is hopeful that prosecuting tenants on vandalism charges can serve as a significant deterrent.

Crupi called for tougher laws and regulations that specifically target tenants establishing operations in rental properties.

“Although it may be ‘legal’ for (individuals) to smoke and grow (marijuana), it should not be legal for them to grow it in, and thereby knowingly destroy another person’s property,” he said.

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