Combating Illegal Marijuana Cultivation on Ranch Lands
By Deputy John Blenker
I have written about this topic in years past and the problem continues to be a plague on Sonoma County Landscape. This is the season as well. It has been profitable for criminals to plant marijuana on rural ranch lands not belonging to them causing damage to private property and invoking fear. Fear of armed and dangerous individuals guarding a cash crop raises visions of a third world country. These growers have been typically referred to as “Guerilla Marijuana Growers.”
Illegal growers slip onto private properties like ghosts, then plant and tend elaborate marijuana crops in remote, well-hidden sections of land. Vineyard managers and land owners have reported that vineyard infrastructure has been tapped into for watering illicit grows. Black poly piping and drip emitters have been stolen causing a substantial loss to grape growers. The Sheriff’s Office has investigated incidents where land owners were actually ordered off of their lands at gunpoint. Streams have been diverted and trees cut down for construction of makeshift ponds and to allow sunlight in through the forest canopy. Poisonous pesticides and rodenticides have polluted land. The illegal growers themselves have gotten involved in physical altercations ranging from hands and fists to assaults with firearms and murder. I have had to escort landowners onto their property because they feared they would run into trouble if confronted by a “Guerilla Grower.”
The law is simple: No one is allowed on your property without your permission. Nor are they allowed to commit a felony crime on your property.
I have covered trespassing issues in past articles and recently water theft. Most landowners determined that they had a “Guerilla grower” on their land by the evidence left behind by them. The single most important item was water diversion which in drought years can be critical.
The following suggestions offer tested ways to discourage “Guerilla Growers” from you land:
- Post a sign-Landowners should post “No Trespassing” signs at conspicuous places near the boundaries of their property. Signs must be posted three to a mile and at every walkway and driveway. These signs warn intruders that you are prepared to prosecute offenders. To be legal and enforceable, each sign must be at least 12” square and contain letters at least 2” high. We recommend that you photograph the signs and keep them in a file for later prosecution of violators.
- Should you see trespasser’s tell them immediately that they are not allowed on the land. Notify Law Enforcement as well.
- File a “Trespass Action Request Form” with the Sheriff’s office- It allows a Deputy Sheriff to cite suspected trespasser’s even if you are not available. This form must be completed every 90 days and provided to the Sheriff’s Office.
- Secure your property-Make sure all gates are closed and locked. If you suspect person(s) are accessing your property, place hidden trail cameras in strategic places and check them regularly.
- Follow up by obtaining a criminal protective order if a convicted offender is prosecuted. This order will generally be granted upon the conviction of the offender. You may also ask for restitution for any damages to your land as a result of deforestation or garbage removal.
- Patrol your land and watch for signs of trespasser’s-Look for human trails or trash that might have been left behind. A well-patrolled ranch is a secure one. Make sure you signs have not been torn down and if they are replace them immediately.
- Utilize neighborhood and farm watch techniques that we discussed in previous articles and in safety bulletins.
If you find an illegal marijuana garden on you property obtain a GPS coordinate of is and give it to the Sheriff’s Office. This information will be provided to the Sheriff’s Narcotics unit and they will attempt to locate suspects involved and the crop will be destroyed.
Note: The Sheriff’s Office cannot patrol private lands looking for an illegal grow unless the landowner has actually located one.
Your personal safety and the personal safety of persons on your property are of the utmost importance to the Sheriff’s Office. It should be yours as well. Look for the telltale signs: water diversion, human trails, grow site infrastructure; garbage, suspicious persons and unrecognized vehicles on your land as well and suspicious vehicles parked in the general area. Close to harvest season, the smell of budding marijuana is very similar to the smell of s skunk.
If you wish to discuss illegal growing of marijuana on your ranch property please contact you Rural Crime Task Force Deputies or Officers in your area.