San Mateo County pot seizures surge 

More than 4,000 marijuana plants have been seized from sophisticated indoor growing operations since the start of the year, according to San Mateo County’s Narcotics Task Force, close to half of what authorities seized in 2006 and more than eight times what was seized in 2005.

In the first three months of 2007, the task force confiscated 3,699 plants with an estimated value of $4.5 million.

On April 16, just a block away from the Westlake Shopping Center, it seized 450 plants with a value of $540,000 from a Bel Mar Avenue home.

This year’s total is evidence of the "big business" that growing marijuana indoors has become on the Peninsula, narcotics officials said. Police said that the increase is indicative of many more indoor facilities that have gone undiscovered so far.

Commander Mark Wyss of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force said one of the main reasons for the spike in seizures is the "supply and demand situation," with the increase in demand partially due to more medical marijuana dispensaries in the area. Most of the seizures, he said, have come in communities like Pacifica and Daly City.

"Clearly it’s big business, and these [street value] numbers are fairly consistent with what you would pay at a dispensary," Wyss said, adding that none of the raids in San Mateo County have been of grows dedicated to medicinal purposes.

Drug Enforcement Agency officials have said that a permissive attitude over use and cultivation has developed out of the medicalization of the plant. According to state law, medical patients may legally possess and cultivate marijuana if they have a doctor’s recommendation but do not distribute or sell pot. Cultivation of marijuana is a felony in the state.

But medicinal marijuana users and the demand they may create could not add up to the kind of impact seen in San Mateo County, said Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organizations for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"Medicinal marijuana is a tiny tip in the marijuana-demand iceberg out there," Gieringer said.

Despite the increasing numbers on the Peninsula, few homeowners are aware of the issue. Richard Crump, president of the Council of Homeowners and Residents Association in Daly City, called indoor growing a problem in residential areas.

"It seems to be an activity that can go on right next door and very often [neighbors] aren’t aware of it," Crump said. "Not because they’re not vigilant but it seems to be an activity you can hide very well."

dsmith@examiner.com

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