Legal Cannabis Grows Underground

. September 1, 2017.
Even when Michigan cannabis growers are legal, they keep it on the down low
Even when growers are legal, they keep it on the down low

With medical marijuana first legalized in Michigan nearly a decade ago, Current sat down with a local MC grower to check in about day-to-day issues the industry is facing as it continues to evolve.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most pressing issue is security. Now that legal do’s and don’ts have been mapped out at the state level, security concerns center around keeping the crop safe from criminals.

“Not that many people are struggling with the legal stuff,” our local grower, who – for obvious reasons – wishes to remain anonymous, tells us. “But you’ve got 72 plants in your facility and someone might very well want to take that from you.”

For What It’s Worth

The value of each plant varies in range from a few ounces to a pound or more, though technically Michigan law allows for only 2.5 ounces per plant. Assuming even modest value for the yield of each plant, the value quickly escalates into the thousands of dollars.

Each growhouse also has equipment including lights, fans, air-filters, containers and an irrigation system, and that equipment is costly. A typical operation could easily cost over $20,000. With difficulty insuring the business equipment (due to reluctance of insurance companies) and the unlikelihood that local police will investigate a robbery at a grow operation, the best, and perhaps only, method for security it secrecy.

“Police will not investigate,” our grower says. “They’re not going to assign a detective to track down your lights and plants.”

Robbery Precedents

“Robbery for a growhouse,” our grower adds, “could be as serious as a group of guys coming in with shotguns and tying you up and duct-taping you on the floor and taking everything.”

That description matches an actual robbery that took place in Milan back in 2011. Time Riley, a licensed medical marijuana grower, was sleeping inside his home when three masked gunman kicked down the door one night at 3:30am.

“Some guy shoved his shotgun in my gut and told me to get on the floor. I didn’t know what to think,” Riley said at the time. The gunmen went on to handcuff his hands and zip-tie his son’s hands and ankles.

About six months later, another attempted robbery of a medical marijuana operation in Milan was foiled when the grower, Robert Goupill, shot one of the intruders in the back with his own shotgun, killing him. Because Goupill chased the intruders down a path outside his house before firing, he was eventually charged with, and convicted of, manslaughter.

Measures of Secrecy

A continuing fear is that anyone involved in the agri-business operation could, even inadvertently, lead the criminal element to the location. “You can’t tell anyone where you’re coming from or going to,” explains our grower. “When people ask me where I work, I just say, ‘oh, around. It’s local.’”

Other measures growers use to try and maintain secrecy include creating ventilation systems to diffuse the smell and direct circulated air above the structure instead of allowing it to leak through the doors or windows, and using disposable “burner” phones to avoid traceable records.

“There’s a constant concern,” our grower says. “Somebody might tie us up with shotguns.”

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