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Shasta County sees spike in illegal pot grows

REDDING, Calif. (AP) -- An explosion of illegal marijuana growing operations in Shasta County is taxing local law enforcement's ability to keep up, according to the Shasta County Sheriff's Office.

County officials expect citizen complaints about illegal pot grows to double from 300 to 600 in 2014, according to The Redding Record Searchlight (http://bit.ly/1jLTlpX).

Previously, the county's marijuana investigative team was busy focusing on the many illegal gardens sprouting on public lands.

But there's been an uptick in recent years of people with medical marijuana cards illegally growing hundreds of plants for sale, often indoors where it's harder to see, said Sgt. Barry Powell.

“In years past we didn't have such a large influx in (Proposition) 215-type grows,” Powell told the newspaper. “Now that has definitely changed because of the overwhelming complaints we've been getting on the 215 side of it.”

Authorities were hopeful that a new county ordinance banning outdoor grows and placing a strict 12-plant limit on indoor grows would help. The ordinance also allows them to charge small-scale violators with a misdemeanor.

But opponents gathered enough signatures to stop implementation of the ordinance, setting up a vote in November.

Medical marijuana advocates say the county's rules are too strict. Having closed down collectives in Redding and unincorporated areas of the county, advocate James Benno said people who use medical marijuana have few alternatives.

“What do they expect people to do? If you close down the collectives of course everyone is going to want to grow it,” he said.

Longtime resident Jerry Lindley told the newspaper that he and his wife feel unsafe because of the number of marijuana gardens moving into their area.

“With the amount of marijuana being grown there must be a lot of sick people out here,” Lindley said. “But let's face it, all of these marijuana growers are not growing for their medical use, they're growing for profit.”

Local authorities are working with California forestry and wildlife officials, as well as the region's water quality control board and the U.S. Forest Service.

But the flood of new grows in the area means many can get away with illegal activity without penalty, authorities said.

“It's a numbers game. We can't keep up with the number of grows out there because of the demand, and the growers know it,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. DeWayne Little said.

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Information from: Record Searchlight, http://redding.com

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