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Grow Houses Move to Suburbia

The tanking housing market makes comfortable suburban homes more accessible to Californian pot farmers.

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By Valerie Tejeda

05/07/12

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The economic crisis might not be bad news for everyone: it could mean rags-to-riches for California marijuana, as the state's pot growers are purchasing foreclosed homes in the suburbs and turning them into grow houses. Until recently, grow houses were predominantly located in low income commercial and rural areas, but due to the housing crisis, more and more grow houses are popping up in suburban middle-class, upper-middle-class and high-end neighborhoods. “[Growers] either buy [foreclosed homes] or rent them,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “They’re buying them in places like Northern California, where the real estate market’s really taken a turn for the worse.” Grow houses have been discovered in the older suburbs in Northern California, such a Vallejo, a town 25 miles north of San Francisco; and recently, more have been discovered in newer communities such Elk Grove, near the state's capitol Sacramento. More than 70 percent of all cannabis plants confiscated across the nation took place in California in 2010 (the last year stats were available) with authorities seizing 188,297 plants at 791 indoor grow houses. Because of the financial crisis, law enforcement officials say they lack the resources to prosecute grow houses—especially in California, where communities are generally tolerant of pot cultivation. “Ten years ago if there was a grow house, we’d seize all their equipment and lamps, and they would be prosecuted,” said Sgt. Jeff Bassett, with the Vallejo Police Department. “Now the chances of being caught, or of being prosecuted if you are, are substantially less than they were 10 years ago.”

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