As marijuana harvest season hits its stride, Merced County sheriff’s investigators are hoping to head off the violence and robberies they say are commonly associated with this time of year.
“We’ll be seeing an uptick in home invasions; we’ll be taking more reports of people getting injured and, we hope, nothing worse than that,” Sheriff Vern Warnke said Monday. “As much as I don’t like it, marijuana, grown legally within the laws and ordinances, is property, and anyone who has their property stolen should call us.”
The sheriff cautioned legal growers in Merced County against defending their property with firearms.
“People have the right to defend themselves properly and legally, but simply seeing someone stealing your marijuana plants, you don’t have the right to use deadly force to protect your marijuana,” Warnke said. “It’s a property crime, same as stealing a car. If you see someone stealing your car, you don’t have the right to use deadly force.”
Sheriff’s investigators said a Delhi resident could be charged with negligently discharging a firearm after he reportedly fired off “warning shots” when he spotted people he believed were trying to steal his medical marijuana plants.
The man, whose name was not released, fired multiple gunshots into the air outside a home on Petaluma Street in Delhi on Friday night, Sgt. Ray Framstad said.
“Now he’s in a situation where he could be charged with negligently discharging a firearm,” Framstad said. “In that situation, we want people to call us and report it as a property crime. We want everyone to remain safe. It’s not worth the risk of injury or worse.”
During the next six weeks of the marijuana harvest season, deputies will continue focusing on illegal cultivation operations and providing education for those working to grow medical marijuana legally.
Deputies on Saturday and Sunday investigated nearly a dozen illegal grows, including about nine separate black market gardens near a river close to Highway 140, outside the Gustine area. Deputies on Sunday eradicated more than 2,500 plants in remote areas of Merced County.
The sheriff’s aviation unit flew deputies in and out of the area, bringing loads of hundreds of plants back to a landing zone with each trip.
“Those grows on Sunday were all tied to organized crime and illegal (commercial) production,” Framstad said. “Those operations show the importance of our aviation unit. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to get to those remote areas.”
Deputies always are concerned about the safety of hunters and fishermen who stumble upon remote gardens. “That’s the reason we take eradicating those grows so seriously.”
Deputies on Saturday eradicated about another 9,500 plants found in the Stevinson area.
“We really encourage everyone to call the Sheriff’s Office if they have any questions about their grow and to make a report if someone steals or tries to steal plants,” Framstad said. “The bottom line is we don’t want people getting hurt.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482