Guard your stash

Registered medical-marijuana users in Nevada are being warned by their California counterparts to take extra security precautions, as registered users increasingly have become the targets for home invasion robberies.

Kenneth Ward, owner of Kenneth Ward & Associates and a specialist in home security systems, said those who grow or have pot on hand for medical purposes are increasingly becoming targets for robberies—often violent ones.

“I think many of us forget just how valuable marijuana is,” he said. “When you take into consideration that an ounce of good marijuana is worth between $400 and $500—considerably more than an ounce of gold is—it naturally becomes the target for robbers.”

Ward said a day seldom passes that the home of one of California’s 30,000 or so registered pot users is not broken into for the sole purpose of stealing pot.

“A person who is desperate for the drug will go to any lengths to obtain it, as was witnessed by a home invasion in Northern California last October,” Ward said, referring to an incident in El Dorado County when four gunmen dressed as FBI and ATF agents forced their way into a rural home.

Holding the family at gunpoint, the four bogus agents took about 20 marijuana plants and cash before fleeing. Police later arrested the four, who are awaiting trial.

Ward said more Las Vegas medicinal users have sought his services in recent months, and he knows of at least four Lake Tahoe properties that have installed security systems to protect their stashes.

Nevada became the ninth state to approve medical marijuana in 2001. Since the opening of the state legal marijuana register in October of that year, 268 applicants have been approved, the majority of them in Clark County. Substantial criminal activity against registered users has already occurred in southern Nevada, according to Clark County police sources.

Det. Lt. Ron Halliday of the Reno Police Department said there have been no reported home invasions directly connected to medical marijuana in the north.

“We have had no reports to date, but that does not mean there haven’t been any,” he said. If a robbery of a medical-marijuana user is reported, it will be treated like any other investigation, Halliday said.

Law enforcement officers in California said that the majority of home-invasion robberies, particularly when drugs are involved, aren’t reported.

Home robberies associated with medical marijuana are not tracked in local crime statistics, said Dan Minter, a robbery detective for the Sacramento County sheriff’s department, but he believes that there is at least one a week in the Sacramento area.

“You seldom receive a call from someone who is growing marijuana illegally,” he said.

Medical marijuana and the protection of medical pot users will be a major topic of discussion at the conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws April 17-19 at the San Francisco Hyatt.

NORML Executive Director Alan St. Pierre said his organization urges any local medical-pot users to take the extra steps to protect their medicine.

“No state that now has the legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes in law is immune from violence, and it is only a matter of time before Reno and surrounding areas are targeted,” St. Pierre said.