Police are increasing efforts to crack down on illegal marijuana growing operations in San Francisco, but they need citizen support to weed out the problem, city officials said Wednesday at a press conference in the Hall of Justice.
“This is not a police problem, it’s not a fire problem, it’s a community problem, and we’re going to need everybody to work together,” said Police Chief George Gascón. “We’re hoping to come up with solutions that are holistic.”
He said citizens should contact the police if they suspect illegal marijuana cultivation is occurring.
The narcotics division in the last five months has raided 36 houses used to grow the drug, resulting in the seizure of 20 firearms and more than 8,000 plants worth nearly $85,000. Four out of five of those busts were the result of tip-offs by neighbors, said Captain Paul Chignell of the San Francisco Police Department. Most of those houses were located in the Sunset District, though one was found in the Mission, near Bryant Street just south of Cesar Chavez Street.
In total, about 45 people have been arrested as a result of the busts. Four of the houses that were raided turned out to be legal operations growing medical marijuana, and they were allowed to continue cultivating as long as they met city safety codes, said Chignell.
Gascón said the illegal sites are large-scale growing operations, often associated with organized crime. “The primary money maker for the Mexican cartels still continues to be marijuana, by and large,” he said while standing next to a table covered with confiscated handguns and assault rifles, which aren’t legal in California.
Fire Marshall Barbara Schultneis said the lights and equipment used for cultivation also represent a fire hazard. “The electrical meter is often bypassed to either steal power or to avoid having PG&E notice the excessive electrical usage,” Schultneis said. “Unsafe wiring methods are often found throughout a grow site that can lead to fires and electrocution.”
The fire department has responded to about two fires per year over the past seven years involving marijuana growth, she said. But there have already been four blazes this year, and a firefighter was seriously injured in an illegal growing warehouse this year when a part of the structure collapsed on top of him.
Gascón said that means growing operations have to be combated, and a public awareness campaign is the first step. “The dangers to the city are tremendous, because, quite frankly, this could end up burning an entire city block,” he said. “This is not about marijuana use. This is not an argument about legalization or no legalization. This is really about public safety.”