While the legal marijuana trade is booming in Washington, large-scale illegal pot grows with out-of-state ties, many in converted homes in residential areas, are increasingly cropping up like weeds in rural Lewis County communities.
In the past year, investigators in Lewis County have raided at least seven large, indoor marijuana grows, collecting more than 8,000 plants.
Fifty pounds of processed buds were seized at one grow alone. To put that in perspective, one grower told investigators last year he sold the product in Seattle for $900 per pound.
“I think we’re going to continue to see this activity for a while, especially in rural areas,” Sheriff Rob Snaza told the Board of Lewis County Commissioners last week. Snaza is Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza’s twin brother.
While the growers are able to hide their tracks from the casual observer, investigators have been able to confirm their suspicions and get search warrants with the help of public utilities.
The county’s two most recent marijuana raids, in Vader and Winlock, were discovered through evidence collected at a grow in Pacific County that was part of an investigation coordinated by the Grays Harbor County drug task force — and then through hugely inflated power bills at residential addresses.
According to court documents, law enforcement used Lewis County Public Utility District records to confirm the home’s residents and found power bills to be unusually high for a house – $600 for a two-month billing cycle. Detectives found more than 600 plants inside.
At the Winlock site, they found “a very substantial power bill” of more than $6,000. “It’s called a clue,” Snaza said.
Investigators seized more than 1,500 plants there.
The Vader grow was less than a block away from city hall. Snaza said people have asked how area residents couldn’t smell the hundreds of growing plants.
“In the old days, you’d have been able to,” he said. But now, he said, growers use state-of-the-art filter systems.
Snaza told the county commissioners Tuesday that a large amount of money is involved in each of the grows, not just in profits from selling their product.
As an example, he said each of the light bulbs in a typical indoor grow could cost $100.