The three San Carlos residents arrested in connection with an illegal marijuana grow don’t fit the typical profile of those usually involved in similar operations in San Mateo County.
“They were an exception,” said Marc Alcantara, Commander of the county’s Narcotics Task Force.
First, suspects 51-year old John Breisch, 33-year old Ryan Schofield and Alexis Bennight, 57, aren’t Asian drug traffickers (nor are they affiliated with known medical marijuana collectives). Alcantara says most indoor grows in San Mateo County are operated by members of Asian organized crime.
The three San Carlans were nabbed August 5th after a building inspection in the 900 block of Terminal Way – prompted by complaints of the stench of fresh marijuana – led to the timely interruption of suspects Breisch and Schofield dismantling an indoor pot operation. Bennight arrived later and was detained.
Alcantara says a U-Haul truck had been seen at the rented warehouse, which led investigators to a house in the 1300 block of Elm Street. There, agents seized 1,294 marijuana plants…with an estimated street value of $905,800, along with six pounds of processed marijuana worth nearly $17,000.
The case is also unusual due to the location: mid-Peninsula, where residential and commercial space cost more than the northern end of San Mateo County, where most grow operators set up business in cheap rentals. “In North County,” Alcantara says, “there are older, larger houses with electricity above ground in the back yard,” which makes it easier to tap into and steal. Indoor pot grows require lots of lights and equipment and an endless supply of electricity to run them.
Alcantara says he believes the suspects chose to locate in the bedroom community of SC in hopes of flying under the radar.
So what leads people – who don’t fit the typical profile of indoor grow operators – to choose that particular business? Who knows, but money is a reasonable guess.
Alcantara says one indoor plant yields about a 1/2 pound of useable marijuana. A pound of high grade pot commands an average wholesale price of $2,800. Start-up costs for an indoor grow are estimated at around $35,000, but the return on investment is enticing considering one season’s harvest translates into $250,000. An indoor grow operation usually produces three harvests a year.
Pot grow wannabies in the Bay Area don’t have far to go in search of training. Founded in 2007, Oaksterdam University – located in Oakland – boasts, “thousands of students have taken classes with the hopes of entering the budding cannabis job field.” A weekend basic seminar costs $300 while a fast-track semester program runs $700.
While most indoor pot growers in San Mateo ship product out of state and even out of the country to China, the market for the San Carlos operation was, well, around town. “They were selling it locally,” Alcantara said of the suspects, adding the marijuana was probably sold in ½ lb. quantities to, “lower level dealers” where it eventually made its way into the hands of the consumer…after everyone who dealt the stuff made money.
San Mateo County’s Narcotics Task Force investigation continues. Schofield, Breisch and Bennight remain free on bail until their arraignment on September 13th.
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