Marijuana is illegal in South Carolina – possession of marijuana, distribution of marijuana, and, obviously, growing marijuana will all get you arrested, although legalization of medical marijuana for limited purposes could happen as soon as this year…
Most marijuana cases come from traffic stops – police pull a car over for speeding or some other traffic violation, the officer approaches the window, and the officer smells the distinctive odor of burnt weed… in SC, that alone is probable cause for the officer to search your vehicle.
Other cases come from confidential informants – someone gets arrested for a drug offense and chooses to “work” for the police in an attempt to “get help” on their charges. They strap on a wire and go to work buying drugs from people they know, making new cases for narcotics officers.
Some of the marijuana found in SC comes from Mexican cartels or other international organizations. Some is imported from “legal” states like California or Washington state. Some people, however, will try to grow their own locally, whether it is for personal use or to sell.
How do police bust marijuana grow operations and how do you defend against manufacturing marijuana charges?
How Do Police Bust Marijuana Grow Rooms?
First, let me be clear. Police do bust marijuana grow operations and it can result in a lengthy prison sentence. So, don’t do it.
The point here is not “how can I get away with growing marijuana?” Rather, the point is “how easy it is to get busted for growing marijuana and end up in jail…”
That said, what are the common types of evidence that lead to manufacturing marijuana charges and search warrants for marijuana grow operations?
Accidental Discovery of a Grow Room or Grow House
The most common source of marijuana grow room busts is probably accidental discovery.
For example, in 2016 Myrtle Beach police were responding to a burglary call at a South Ocean Boulevard hotel when they “noticed a strong smell of raw marijuana wafting through the parking lot.”
Following the smell, they knocked on a hotel room door. An officer asked one of the occupants, “how much marijuana is in the room?” and, instead of replying, he called his wife and said, “I’m going to jail.”
With more than enough evidence for a search warrant, officers found 18 marijuana plants and over 200 grams of marijuana in the room…
Similarly, earlier this year, deputies responded to a reported kidnapping complaint in Greer, SC – the kidnapping turned out to be unfounded but, while they were on the scene, the deputies noticed a strong odor of marijuana coming from a barn.
After getting a search warrant, they discovered 76 marijuana plants, some of which were 7-8 feet tall…
What Do Police Need to Get a Search Warrant for a Grow Room?
If police suspect that there is a marijuana grow operation, in most cases they must get a search warrant before they can enter and search the premises – what do police need to get a search warrant for a marijuana grow operation?
They don’t have to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the suspects are growing marijuana. They only need to establish probable cause that a crime is being committed – there must be some reliable evidence that the person is growing marijuana.
Types of Evidence that Lead to Search Warrants for Marijuana Grow Operations
Any evidence that would tend to prove there is a marijuana grow operation may be enough for police to get a search warrant for a residence, hotel room, or other location. What are some of the more common types of evidence that we see in SC?
Odor of Marijuana
Obviously, marijuana smells. It smells a lot. Lots of marijuana smells even more. And large amounts of marijuana growing, drying, or just laying around will produce a strong odor that can often be detected even from outside a house, barn, or other structure.
The odor of marijuana alone is enough to establish probable cause in SC – whether it is coming from a car on the highway or from a residence.
High Electric Bills
Although most utility companies do not call law enforcement to report high electric bills, and a high electric bill alone may not be enough for probable cause, it can play into the probable cause analysis in some cases.
For example, in 2012, a former state trooper and others were charged with growing marijuana in Ridgeville, SC after Edisto Electric Company reported “unusually high electricity use on the property and numerous instances of tripping circuits” on the property.
The electric bill was $800 a month even though there was no residence on the property, and electric workers had to reset a transformer a number of times because the circuits were overloading. Police found more than 300 marijuana plants growing in sheds on the property…
In Kyllo v. United States, the US Supreme Court held that police must have a search warrant before using thermal imaging devices on a person’s property. They found that, although police are not entering the residence, it is still a search that is subject to the Fourth Amendment.
Information from Informants
The most common evidence used by narcotics officers when seeking a search warrant for a marijuana grow operation (or drug distribution, or drug trafficking) is evidence gathered by confidential informants.
A statement from a reliable informant that they have seen the grow operation is all police need to get a search warrant in most cases. Audio or video recordings from the informant plus drugs they purchased while at the location can corroborate the informant’s observations.
Manufacturing Marijuana and Grow Room Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach
Your Myrtle Beach, SC marijuana defense lawyer at Coastal Law has years of experience defending drug crimes including marijuana offenses. One thing is clear about marijuana grow operations – it is often easy for police to find some evidence of the operation, get a search warrant, and charge you with manufacturing marijuana.
Don’t do it. But, if you have been charged with manufacturing marijuana, call a SC marijuana defense attorney as soon as possible – before making any statements to law enforcement.
If you have been charged with manufacturing marijuana, distribution of marijuana, trafficking marijuana, or even just simple possession of marijuana, we want to help. Call now at (843) 488-5000 or get in touch online to speak with a defense lawyer today.