In recent years it has become profitable for criminals to grow marijuana on property belonging to others, particularly in rural parts of Sonoma County. 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. I have taken reports in areas where infrastructure for vineyards has been tapped into and property stolen to support these grows. The Sheriff’s Office has investigated incidents where landowners were actually ordered off their own lands at gunpoint. Streams have been diverted and trees cut down for construction of makeshift ponds. Poisonous pesticides and rodenticides have polluted the land. The illegal growers themselves have gotten involved in physical altercations ranging from hands and fists to firearms and murder. I never would have thought that I might have to escort a landowner onto his own property because he feared he would run into trouble if confronted by a “Guerilla Grower.” Well last year I had to do just that.
The law is simple: No one is allowed on your property without your permission. Nor are they allowed to commit a felony on your property.
In an earlier article I wrote about the prevention of trespassing on farms and ranches.
The following suggestions offer tested ways to discourage Guerilla Growers from using your land:
- Post a sign—Landowners should post “No Trespassing” signs at conspicuous places near the boundaries of their properties. 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 trespassers 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 trespassers 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 cams in strategic places.
- 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 trespassers- Look for human trails or trash that might have been left behind. A well-patrolled ranch is a secure one. Make sure your signs have not been torn down and if they are replace them immediately.
- Utilize neighborhood and farm watch techniques that we have discussed in previous articles and in safety bulletins.
If you find an illegal marijuana crop on your property obtain a GPS coordinate of it 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 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 as suspicious vehicles parked in the general area. Close to harvest season, the smell of budding marijuana is very similar to the smell of a skunk.
If you would like to discuss illegal growing of marijuana on your ranch property please contact your Rural Crime Task Force Deputies or officers in your area.
To contact Rural Crimes Task Force call 707-565-3940.