Marijuana growing raids in Kern Co. on the increase

Marijuana growing raids in Kern Co. on the increase
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Raids on marijuana growing sites are coming almost every day in Kern County lately. Local officers say this is the "season" for that crop, and it continues through October.

Eyewitness News looked at the data that's available so far on marijuana plots, and what trends investigators are seeing. A review of ten recent raids provides some examples, but officers say there have been many more.

The latest bust was in a remote area off Highway 155 and Shirley Creek near the Greenhorn Summit. Officers raided it on Wednesday, August 17, and found 3,102 marijuana plants.

That's an example of growing operations in remote areas. Another remote grow was found the day before in the Walker Basin area near Thompson Canyon and Heritage Way where 277 plants were found growing on private land.

Officers said they found three doctors' recommendations for medical marijuana from the Los Angeles area. While they say the operation was within state guidelines, it was over the new county rule allowing a maximum of 12 plants per parcel.

Those medical marijuana recommendations are the reason officers think they're also now finding more pot gardens close to urban neighborhoods.

Kern County Sheriff's commander Ed Komin told Eyewitness News the doctors' recommendations are recently showing up as large as 99 plants per patient.

Growers have posted several recommendations in some locations, and indicated that allowed the large number of plants. But officers have found several cases where the number of plants in the ground still exceeded the total from the recommendations.

Marijuana plots found close to urban neighborhoods so far this year include Redbank Road east of Fairfax, the 6000 block of East Panama Lane and East Pacheco and Cottonwood Road.

More grows have been found near outlying communities in the county. Some of those include off Garces Highway and Jumper Avenue near Delano, near Buttonwillow, off Millux Road and Hill Road, and off East Wilson near Lamont.

Eyewitness News also discovered officers investigated a large grow north of Wasco off the extension of Western Avenue and Blankenship. Court papers on that case show officers found more than 1,000 marijuana plants.

The big concern is crime and violence at any of the grows, according Commander Komin. He pointed to examples of grows with booby traps, and said plots may have growers or guards armed with guns.

Prompted by concerns over the potential for crime and violence, Kern County Supervisors just enacted an "urgency" ordinance limiting the number of plants to no more than 12 on any parcel.

That new, local rule faces legal challenges by medical marijuana supporters, but it went into effect immediately.

Undercover narcotics officers with the sheriff's department tell Eyewitness News they have continued to raid marijuana plots, and if growers meet state guidelines for medical marijuana, they have pulled out all the plants -- but left 12. The new county maximum.

But, officers say marijuana growing can be a magnet for crime, and now is when a lot of it is ready to harvest and ready to sell.

"Basically, what we have is a million-dollar product, and people are willing to go to great lengths to protect that property," Komin said.

"It's incredibly dangerous," he added. "Not only for the officers serving the warrants, but for members of the general public."

He said it's hard to say how many more marijuana grows they'll find, but predicted that could continue through the growing season this fall.