Pubdate: Wed, 13 Aug 2003
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Weekly
Author: Rick Anderson
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


As a general rule of agriculture, says Seattle attorney Jeff
Steinborn, "If you are going to grow dope, it's best not to tell
anyone about it." That's especially important in Washington, one of
the top states for indoor marijuana grows and busts-almost all of
which are sparked by tips from informants you had figured to be
friends, visitors, or relatives. They include the Butt-Crack
Narc-plumbers, dryer repairers, or maybe one of the furnace guys-who
comes to your house, spots your dinky marijuana grow, and calls the
cops. The Utility Narc, from the power or gas companies, might peek
through your window or notice you're consuming electricity like an
aluminum factory, and drop a dime. The Trash Narc-garbage haulers-can
spy your discarded hydroponics packaging and rat you out (your garbage
can also later be searched without a warrant for evidence). The
Business Narc you had a falling-out with may make an anonymous call
about your smoke-filled office, or the Ex-Lover Narc can tell 911
about the reefers in your nightstand. A Criminal Narc informs the cop
putting on the plastic cuffs that he bought those joints from you and
just happens to know your address.

And on rare occasions, the Family Member Narc spills your tribe's
secret to authorities.

Though he's had only a few such familial cases, notes Steinborn, 60,
who has specialized in marijuana defenses for 25 years, he does have
that shirt he wears now and then, stating: "I turned in my parents but
all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

When we talked with Steinborn on his cell phone the other day, he was
in Mason County, rustling up evidence to defend the alleged members of
a local pot-growing ring. As is typical, law enforcement got onto the
case with an informant's tip-in this instance, from one of the alleged
ring members. "The allegation," Steinborn said, "is that they were all
growing pot together, a couple families, and one of the leaders got
pissed off and turned them in."

Thing is, "Most neighbors respect the right of American citizens to
responsibly use dope in their own homes," he says. "And I think the
meter reader who turns you in is the exception today." But informants
are still calling in the smoke, and you can never be sure who it is.
As those crime-stopping tip lines inform callers, you need not give
even your name, rank, or serial number.

STEINBORN maintains that cannabis is not a dangerous drug and extreme
measures to enforce dope laws are unjustified. In Washington, he says,
where marijuana is the state's No. 1 one cash crop, a $5,000 reward
awaits those who turn in marijuana farmers.

But "I don't know of any rewards that encourage people to turn in
murderers, rapists, or child molesters," he says. "It's all truly
unfair. Tell me of any comparably minor crime where they take your
home and car as well."

He says almost all indoor marijuana cultivation cases begin with
anonymous tips. There are few figures, but the Kitsap County Sheriff's
Office, for one, says the majority of its pot busts-50 grow operations
in 2001-are the result of tips from citizens.

That includes several instances of pot gardens planted on state
Department of Natural Resources land, spotted by hikers who called in
the troops. King County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Fagerstrom says the
department averages up to six tips a month including e-mail, mostly
from neighbors witnessing heavy foot traffic at a nearby residence.
"We do not actively recruit these tips; we simply let peoples'
conscience guide them," Fagerstrom says. Tipsters include a teenager
who turned in his parents.

He "was concerned about their well-being and called in the tip for us
to bust the parents' grow op," says Fagerstrom. "That caught national
news attention."

At his online site (, Steinborn says informants come
in infinite disguises.

Some make careers out of unearthing and narcing on (sometimes after
ripping off) grow rooms. "Informants," says Steinborn, "are much more
prevalent in the marijuana trade than in other situations, since most
marijuana growers are nonviolent and refuse to treat informers in ways
that are customary if not mandatory when it comes to other crimes.

Anyone who spends much time around the criminal justice system knows
that the United States has reversed its moral compass on this issue."

A new local twist is the Military Narc, employing the military's
thermal-imaging capabilities for grow-farm flyovers. "The military
has crept into civilian law enforcement for the first time in recent
history," Steinborn says. "In one case I know of, the state used
military aircraft to follow marijuana-grow suspects all over the state.

A lengthy investigation produced over 7,000 pages of documents and
only a smattering of marijuana plants.

This took place in a county where the vast majority of referrals to
the Children's Protective Service were for methamphetamine-related

Steinborn says he's had many clients whose home-delivered packages
appeared "suspicious" to commercial delivery personnel, who can open
any package they choose. "If they find contraband, they contact the
police, who then get a warrant- after the real search has taken place."

Landlords, he notes, are a constant threat to a lawless grower. "A
landlord does not have authority to bring police onto the private
areas of property you rent without a warrant.

But the landlord's statement by itself may be enough to get a warrant
without any police participation." In some instances, police can
simply come to your door at the landlord's request and get a whiff.

In particular, Steinborn advises, beware what he calls "jealous,
sanctimonious, or otherwise nosy neighbors." They bring down many a
farm, he says, yet because they remain anonymous, you'll never know
who squealed. "There's not much you can do about them," the attorney
says. "But it never hurts to be a good neighbor."

Yet no informant is so common as the rejected lover or business
associate, Steinborn thinks. "If you made the mistake of sharing your
private business with someone who later turns on you-well, so it goes.
If you weren't so greedy or lazy you'd have done it all by yourself,
and there would be no one to snitch you off." 
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