Think There Might Be Pot Growing in Your Neighborhood?

The San Mateo police chief and the commander of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force weigh in with some advice to help you decide whether there may be a grow operation going on in your neighborhood.


A citizen's tip led to the arrest Friday of a 49-year-old man in a quiet San Mateo neighborhood for allegedly growing hundreds of marijuana plants inside a home on 31st Avenue.

San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force Commander Lt. Marc Alcantara says indoor growing of the drug has become quite prevalent in our area.

"It's one of the our major up-and-coming drug-related crimes," says Alcantara. "What is odd about this instance is that it occurred in the city of San Mateo. More often than not our indoor marijuana grow investigations bring us to north county cities like Pacifica, Daly City, South San Francisco, Broadmoor, Millbrae, Half Moon Bay - those areas. That's where we see the majority of our indoor grows."

San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer says she's already heard from neighbors relieved the neighborhood operation was discovered, and calls the rapid increase of large-scale illegal pot grows in the county "a mushrooming public safety hazard."

"These are often organized criminal enterprises, guarded by firepower to prevent theft, illegally bypassing electric meters, and often times tapping into the power of utility providers and neighbors illegally," says Manheimer.

"The tragic fires that have resulted from these intricate grow houses is well documented. They are often in the midst of quiet residential neighborhoods, and  that requires the help of our residents. It is important to educate the public about the level of danger from the illegal operations," Manheimer says.

Manheimer and Alcantara encourage the help of citizens in locating neighborhood grow sites. Each suggested some indicators that there might be an operation in your neighborhood.

"You'd hear whirring noises," says Alcantara, "because they need to have filtration inside the house. They need to get the oxygen out, and the carbon dioxide in for the plants, so they have filtration systems set up."

Alcantara and Manheimer mention several other signs that may be observed:

  • Infrequent visits by individuals who stay for a couple hours and then leave.
  • Lights in the house appear to be regulated, and on timers. Sometimes, rooms inside seem perpetually lit.
  • Initial construction and the noise that comes from that work.
  • A "skunky" marijuana odor, and other odors, such as those from mothballs, air fresheners or chlorine, which are used in an attempt to mask the marijuana smell.
  • Unusual garbage strewn across lawn. Items used for growing marijuana, such as wiring, PVC piping and nutrient containers, may be discarded and left around the house.
  • Windows covered in dark plastic or newspaper.
  • Extra security, such as guard dogs, fences, or cars loitering for long periods of time.

The San Mateo Police Department suggests residents suspicious of activity in their neighborhood call one of several phone numbers listed below:

SMPD Dispatch : 650-522-7700
SMPD Investigations Bureau: 650-522-7650
SMPD Secret Witness hotline:  650-522-7676
Anonymous Text to SMPD: 650-262-3473

You may also send an anonymous e-mail to Sanmateo@tipnow.org

In other cities in the county, and in unincorporated areas, you're urged to call your local police department non-emergency phone number.

The Sheriff's Office non-emergency phone number is (650) 363-4911, and their anonymous tip line is (800) 547-2700.

d wave March 13, 2012 at 06:07 PM
i don't think so. the feds (under obama) are prosecuting more pot busts than ever before. please see the rolling stone article, "Obama's war on pot". http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/obamas-war-on-pot-20120216 added to the mix is that by using a state id (driver's license) they add you to their database, they have your home address (and god knows what else). i guess that it would be safer to do it without the card - but with a doctor's written recommendation.
Alice Stoddard March 13, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I blame Bush...
hutch March 13, 2012 at 08:09 PM
I support medical cannabis but Prop 19 was a pooly written law that would have actually toughened existing anti pot laws. I doubt 54% of San Mateo voted for it. As for it not being our business what our neighbors do that's just plain bull$hit. This is why neighborhoods in Oakland are so bad. Nobody sees anything. How do you think people are kept hostage for years? Neighbors see nothing. We have a neighborhood watch which I'm proud to be part of. You better believe I report suspicious activity. It my civic duty. To suggest you look the other way is selfish and destructive to society.
Brash Brazen March 13, 2012 at 08:54 PM
No they'll have drug-sniffing dogs patrolling the campuses of your local schools like they have now in Pleasanton & Newark to name but a few ! As peoples attitudes have evolved when it comes to the war on drugs the real zealots are pushing back harder than ever in a last ditch effort to impose their will upon the mostly unwilling ! Let's spend our meager resources incarcerating real criminals (thiefs,rapists,killers) & make room for them by releasing those convicted of petty drug offenses ! It's long overdue ! An acquaintance of mine was observed smoking marijuana recently by a policeman. When he told the officer he didn't have a doctor's recommendation for the marijuana,the officer returned it & said "well get one,everyone else has one" !! Even the police know they have better things to do with their time than cite people with marijuana,so let's make it legal !!!
Bren March 13, 2012 at 09:52 PM
That's valid, Hutch, but what the police are describing as "suspicious activity" is totally absurd. "Suspicious" is a very subjective thing. I'd rather people stick to reporting criminal activity. And by criminal activity, I don't mean doing something harmless, like growing and selling marijuana.
hutch March 13, 2012 at 10:16 PM
I blame rap
Troy March 13, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Pot is so less destructive than alcohol I can't believe it's still not legal but alcohol is...
Diet T March 14, 2012 at 01:10 AM
@d wave..........thanks. Great article in Rollingstone. What's going on when Obama appoints people that are holdovers from the Bush regime? I could have just voted Republican in the last election, for all the good he's done.....including the extension of tax breaks for the wealthy!
Tommy Grahn March 14, 2012 at 01:10 AM
It's a plant, people! Just a plant that grows out of dirt. Incredible!
ian butler March 14, 2012 at 01:26 AM
"I doubt 54% of San Mateo voted for it." Not only did San Mateo county vote 54% in favor of prop 19, Pacifica voted 60% in favor. Don't take my word for it, election result breakdown by county and city is available here: https://www.shapethefuture.org Knock yourself out.
d wave March 14, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Obama certainly will be remembered as a centrist - although i suspect he hasn't abandoned his principles. obama is smart enough to know how to politic. he's shooting for re-election and i guess the ex-bushies pleased some faction of his voter base in kansas. he has accomplished a lot for the progressive cause (starting with affordable health care act). and keeping in mind he inherited the worst economy in over 100 years and two wars, and dim wit tea-partiers. i'm reminded of his quote when asked, "did you inhale". "Of course I inhaled, that was the point of it". that said - we really can't expect a change in seas. pot will probably still be persecuted the same way it is now. makes no sense. the current left wing is aligned with the principles of Goldwater conservatives. the right wing is on some other planet.
hutch March 14, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Ian, I think that's stretching the truth a bit buddy. The official site shows it was closer than that. https://www.shapethefuture.org/elections/results/nov2010/results.asp#c-810 PROPOSITION 19 - LEGALIZE MARIJUANA IN CA, REGULATE AND TAX (50%+1) Completed Precincts: 457 of 457 Vote Count Percentage YES 112,637 51.6% NO 105,813 48.4% Again, Prop 19 actually criminalized things that were already legal like smoking in public or in the same building as a minor. If more people understood that they would not have voted for it. As you were.
hutch March 14, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Again I'm pro medical mariijuana, but to say pot is harmless is a lie. It is a drug that changes the brain. All doctors recognize marijuana smoke is damaging to the lungs. More teens are in rehab for pot than any other drug.
d wave March 14, 2012 at 03:09 AM
it is powerful. and it is getting more so. and the teen-aged brain is in a critical stage of development. (must read: primal teen by Barbara Strauch for a thoughtful and intelligent discussion) i've never seen any peer-reviewed papers with academic references that show it is addictive or that it damages lungs. I have seen it work wonders on cancer patients, and know many who use it to relieve stress. Like everything - in moderation. You can die by drinking too much water.
hutch March 14, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Every medical marijuana doctor (5) I've spoken with says that the smoke can damage the lungs and the recommend vaporizing or eating over smoking. It's only common sense that ANY smoke is bad for your lungs.
d wave March 14, 2012 at 04:10 AM
you are right; smoking any plant will affect the lungs. a better point is that marijuana isn't connected to cancer; that pot smokers smoke a lot less; but pot does have tar in it. THC is a bronchial dilator where tobacco is a constrictor. I still believe that pot smoke is probably less harmfull overall. but the point is that vaporizing or eating is better.
ian butler March 14, 2012 at 05:19 AM
The most extensive study on marijuana's effect on the lungs concluded that there was no damage from moderate use. No one was more surprised by the conclusion than the researchers themselves. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/marijuana-and-lungs-study_n_1197854.html
ian butler March 14, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Good job looking it up Hutch. As you must have learned, it requires a bit of digging and I went from memory rather than digging it up again. The important point is that a majority of us in the county voted to legalize marijuana, and our government officials should act accordingly.
Bren March 14, 2012 at 06:47 AM
I'd like to see a similar study of heavy users.
Ken C March 14, 2012 at 09:57 AM
All this pot talk is giving me the munchies!
Summer Hemphill March 14, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Well don't stop for donuts,I understand that the police are monitoring the places 24 hours a day,7 days a week !!!
M. Ricardo Flores March 23, 2012 at 05:39 AM
pot being a crime = more jobs and funding for law enforcement. it is in their best interest to keep it criminalized.
Angelica October 15, 2012 at 06:56 AM
I am a pregnant mom with 2 children living in my home and it upsets me that my neighbor finds it cool to smoke out every day blowing his toxic fumes my way! Because of his disrespectful tracts, I now am totally against smoking pot for all people! Especialy in residential neighborhoods were children live!!!
Bren October 15, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Angelica, a guy recently moved in across the street from me who has a Harley Davidson. I find it really annoying that I now have to have my peace and quiet disturbed by the sound of his motorcycle. According to your logic, I should now be against motorcycles for all people. Why don't you try knocking on your neighbor's door, politely explain how their pot smoke is affecting you, and ask them nicely to find a place in their house where they can smoke without it blowing into your domain?
Izec October 15, 2012 at 03:31 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzeZhCt5PVA here you go hutch blame rap, this video was made out of the ignorance of people also more teens are in rehab for medical marijuana because that is the most accessible drug and the court gives them one of two choices, makes them do time in the hall or go to a "rehab" center for it. What do you think the majority of teens will choose? Point and Case. Watch the movie "The Union" learn a thing or two.
d wave October 15, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Bren - I'm with you. Also have a neighbor who managed to dismantle his exhaust system and wakes everyone up at 4:30 AM as heads off to work. 120 DB of anger and frustration bothering people for a one mile radius as he roars off to work as a meat packer in south san francisco. i'd be happy to swap him for some mellow rasta dude!
Andrew Peceimer October 15, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Bren and D Wave, I agree with your comments. Can you believe it?
d wave October 15, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Well - this is a separate thread. But loud bikes bug me. Unfortunately there really isn't a law that can be enforced. SB 435 is a watered down bill that prohibits tampering with stock bikes after 2013 or so - but i don't think it passed. And roaring down the street at 120DB is not considered disturbing the peace. I don't think a cop can stop a bike only for being loud (although they can stop a car for not having a turn signal).
Bren October 15, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I apologize, Andrew. I'll try to make sure I don't say anything reasonable ever again! ;-)
Bren October 15, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Mind you, Angelica's neighbors are idiots. She'd be doing them a favor if she clued them in to the fact that the whole neighborhood can smell their drugs. People like that are likely to get themselves arrested.


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