What Keeps Narcotics Agents Busy in San Mateo Co.

Indoor marijuana grow operation

2011 is far from over, but it’s already been a busy year for narcotics agents on the Peninsula.

As far as San Mateo County is concerned, “our issue is indoor grow operations,” said Narcotics Task Force Commander Marc Alcantara, adding that most are run by members of Asian organized crime and are located in the north part of the county, where houses are bigger and cheaper to rent.

Alcantara says that marijuana has come a long way since the 60’s and 70’s.

Not only are THC levels higher – in the 10-12% range instead of the 2-3% common in the “old days” (this topic is much debated online) – the market for higher quality, indoor grown marijuana has made it big business.

One indoor plant yields about a ½ lb. of processed pot which has an average wholesale price of $1,400, although it can certainly sell for more.  No small potatoes (to mix metaphors).

Once the average start-up cost of $35,000 is spent, indoor growers rake in about $250,000 each season and, if they’re not caught, can look forward to three seasons in a year.

Commander Marc Alcantara says, to date, agents have busted 21 indoor grow operations, nabbing 12,261 plants.  Last year, 8,696 indoor pot plants were confiscated at 28 indoor grow sites.

Landlords may have no idea their property is being used as a grow house.  Often, Alcantara says, the houses are destroyed by all the water used in the hydroponic cultivation of marijuana gardens…which results in greater yields.

Alcantara has seen holes cut into ceilings to make room for giant filters and and walls ruined by mold and spores.

Often, narcotics agents discover grow houses after fire crews respond to a blaze caused by the haphazard way growers illegally tap into the existing electrical supply, not only to steal power but to avoid detection.

While most indoor grows are in the northern part of the county, outdoor grows are found along the coast.

Marijuana isn’t the only drug the narcotics task force deals with on the Peninsula.  “San Mateo County is the West Coast hub for Mexican tar heroin,” said Alcantara, adding that it has a more limited consumer base because it’s less socially acceptable than marijuana.

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