How to Spot Your Neighborhood Grow House

By Bryan Le 07/06/12

The media rides to the rescue of people who worry that their neighbors have "green" thumbs.

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Is this your neighbor? Photo via

When AOL News asks, “Are Your Neighbors Running a Hidden Marijuana Operation?” will you know how to respond? After all, that normal-looking couple could be budding pot-dealers with a large-scale grow-op buried under their idyllic home. It could be hidden—as in the case of one father-daughter team in Georgia—behind a custom-built hydraulic table. Which conceals a secret staircase. Which leads down to over 160 marijuana plants. “I'm sort of mechanically inclined myself, and I thought it was pretty ingenious the way they did it,” said grudgingly-impressed county sheriff Wiley Griffin after they were busted. While most grow-ops aren't quite that sophisticated, they might still be hard to detect. So how to do it?

Use your nose, suggests police officer Craig Woolnough in the AOL article. Growers' homes have a “strong” and “obvious” smell that's hard to miss when you approach from downwind. Step stealthily towards the suspect building and touch a window—is it warmer than it should be? Is there condensation? Growers also like to close their blinds. EHow weighs in with the suggestion of taking a listen for some humming—because that sound could mean generators and lots of electricity being used. If you happen to be a power company, or the suspects' landlord, you can check out their bills. And keep track of your neighbors' movements: do they have no discernible daily schedule, yet drive nice cars? Do they buy lots of gardening stuff, but have a yard that shows no benefit? They might not just be lazy retired folk. You could some herb-harvesters on your hands. A “Beware of the Dog” sign—with no dog—is also apparently a dead giveaway.

Why is it important to know? Because “marijuana grow houses are the playground of organized crime” and are “ripping off the taxpayer,” according to Ottowa public health examiner Rose Simpson. Fertilizers, electricity, water and even mold can all apparently spell danger. “Imagine" says Simpson, "If your child tried to break in on a lark.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter