Pot farm pops up next to man's dream home
YUBA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 I-Team has seen firsthand how California's medical marijuana laws are attracting growers to the state and even more pot farms will be popping up if voters approve Proposition 19 to legalize recreational use in next week's election.
A list of the biggest pot-growing counties in the state, ranked by the number of plants seized by authorities this year, has Mendocino, Tuolumne and Lake counties at the top. But they are not the only parts of the state where pot farms are becoming more common.
Walter Carlucci was looking for a place to retire after a career as a plant manager, a place to enjoy with his grandkids, somewhere away from the pressures of life in the Bay Area. He thought he found it three hours away in Yuba County on the edge of the Plumas National Forest.
"I said, 'My god, this is exactly what I been looking for, this is perfect,'" Carlucci said.
Carlucci liked the mountains, the wildlife and the clean air. He also liked the deal.
"Up there, with our life savings, we could build a house and the taxes are less than $400 a year," he said.
Carlucci sank his life savings into the house only to show up one day and find that a pot farm had sprung up next door. Overnight, his new neighbors brought in a truckload of top soil and set up rows of marijuana just feet from Carlucci's living room.
It is now harvest time -- the plants are 10 feet tall.
"And that's not anything I want my kids around, not anything I want my grandkids around," Carlucci said.
The I-Team wanted to talk to Yuba County officials about the pot farm, but Sheriff Steve Durfor, Supervisor Hal Stocker and District Attorney Pat McGrath all declined to be interviewed on camera. By phone, McGrath told the I-Team, "The cultivation of marijuana is not a priority for us."
It is a priority for Carlucci; he is worried about his family's safety.
"And then I see the guy's walking around with the shotgun, the other guy's carrying a machete, all tattooed out," Carlucci said of his new neighbors.
Carlucci says a sheriff's deputy told him some of the growers have criminal records. The man heading the operation confirms it. He agreed to an interview if the I-Team did not show his face or use his name.
"People with criminal records can still have medical marijuana," the grower said. "People make mistakes throughout their life, you know, who can't say they made a mistake and a lot of people have records, that doesn't exclude them from being medical cannabis patients."
The grower says he and his friends have rented the property to grow about 100 plants and that they have doctor's recommendations for medical marijuana, or what he calls "scripts," for various conditions.
"Back problems, chronic pain, insomnia, ADHD, everybody has a myriad of illnesses, you know," the grower said.
Dan Noyes: "So, I just want to be clear, are any of the people who have these scripts here, are they taking the marijuana and then selling it?"
Dan Noyes: "It's for their own use?"
Grower: "It's for personal use."
The grower says his workers carry the shotgun and machete at night to protect themselves from bears and that he is sorry if they startled Carlucci.
Dan Noyes: "Basically overnight, boom, there's a pot farm next to his house. Do you understand how he might be upset?"
Grower: "Oh, definitely I can see where he's coming from. I understand, but, if Walter would like to come over and say hi, we're nice guys over here, he's welcome to come on over."
Carlucci is angry.
"I wasted a lot of money up there, my life savings, because even if I was to turn around and try to sell it, I can't recoup what I put in there already," he said.
Carlucci says he is not just losing money because of the housing crisis; his property has lost even more value because of the pot farm next door. He did not realize marijuana is part of the culture in Yuba County. His neighbor down the street grows it in greenhouses.
Another local finds what he calls "stink weed" growing wild in the forest.
And new pot farms are sprouting up across the county.
"It just pulls you in, there's such energy in the plants, it's just there's a life force, and you just get to walk around and see them and feel them and smell them, it just brightens your day," another grower said.
Another group of growers brought their operation from Las Vegas this year because the medical marijuana laws are less restrictive in California. They set up right next to the highway.
"It's more to make a point that we should be able to do it, it's for medicine," the other grower said. "We're not trying to do it for any other purpose, so why can't we? Why do we have to hide?"
But, they are taking precautions against those who would rip off their plants with three pit bulls and guns.
It is the threat of violence that bothers locals most. Authorities cut down 7,400 plants in one Yuba County forest a month ago after spotting a worker with a gun.
"Two U.S. Forest Service female wildlife biologists who stumbled onto that area had their lives threatened," retired Cal Fire peace officer Don Perkins said.
Perkins lives in the area and is worried about the Mexican drug cartels that are known to favor isolated public lands for their massive pot farms.
"They'll kill you; if you and I went out the road or roads to where the 7,400 plants were, you would be shot," he said.
The small, local pot farmers are concerned, too. One man who works as a masseuse grows medical marijuana in his backyard.
"I feel like people should be able to grow their own, grow it for their friends, maybe even have cottage industries doing it," he said.
Despite his troubles, Carlucci supports medical marijuana for seriously ill patients. He does not back Prop 19 that would legalize recreational use and allow people to grow their own in a five-by-five-foot space.
"It doesn't belong in every Tom, Dick and Harry's backyard growing," he said. "How do you keep your kids away from it? Are your kids going to do good, if they're all screwed up, how are they going to pay attention in school?"
Prop 19 would also add new penalties for selling pot to anyone under the age of 21.
Friday, the I-Team heads to a massive pot farm that is illegal -- no question about it. More than 6,000 plants in a national park. The I-Team hikes in for the bust of a multi-million dollar operation.
marijuana, i-team, dan noyes
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