Jan. 26 2011 12:00 AM

A rise in medical marijuana burglaries in homes and businesses has people wondering: Where is it safe to grow?


At least 11 incidences of burglary or robbery involving medical marijuana were reported from Meridian Township to Eaton Rapids in the past seven months. Six of them were residential. Nine of them were in the city of Lansing. Charges were brought in two.

But it has become clear: Just because you’re legally involved in the cannabis business, either in your home or a storefront, it doesn’t mean you’re any safer.

On Dec. 30, three armed and masked men barged into Paula’s home in rural Eaton County at about 8 p.m. Paula, who is 52 and does not want to give her last name or address, was inside with her son and granddaughter.

Paula is a medical marijuana patient and a caregiver for two others. She had between two-and-a-half and six ounces of usable marijuana stored in jars and $1,500 in cash in her purse. The intruders stole it all.

It’s puzzling to Paula how anyone could know she had relatively small amounts of medical marijuana stored at her house. It’s not like she had a neon pot leaf on her front door.

“I am not a drug dealer. I’m not doing this to get rich,” Paula said.

Paula’s two patients — she’s allowed five — don’t use that much medication. She ends up with overages at each harvest. She sells her overages to a dispensary in Lansing.

“My patients and the dispensary are the only two places that have seen my card and address,” Paula said. She suspects she was “somehow set up or followed.”

Paula reported to the Eaton County Sheriff ’s Department that three men all dressed in black escaped in a dark-colored, four-door vehicle. Jessica Larkin, public information officer with the Eaton County Sheriff ’s Department, confirmed that Paula filed a police report.

Since her ordeal, Paula installed security cameras, keeps her door locked at all times and owns a couple of guns, she said.

Larkin also said this is the first reported incident involving medical marijuana theft her department has seen. Paula claims that it’s going on more than what is getting reported.

“I am not aware of anything like this (happening) before,” Larkin said. “If they are not reporting it, it’s a little bit suspicious.”

In Lansing in the past six months, four residences involving medical marijuana growers were burglarized, according to the Police Department. Incidences on Stirling Avenue and Maple and Bristol streets are open investigations with no leads.

A suspect was charged with breaking and entering and possession with intent to deliver marijuana after a Nov. 8 incident on the 200 block of Mosley Street.

Another five burglaries and robberies occurred at dispensaries. Those are all open investigations with no leads.

Lansing Police Lt. Noel Garcia said there appears to be no connection among the nine Lansing cases.

HydroWorld at 4513 S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., L.B. Mary Jane at 3711 W. Jolly Road, Turtle’s at 2121 E. Michigan Ave. and an unknown location on the 5300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue have all been burglarized or robbed since Aug. 24, police said. An attempted robbery at Homemade Hydroponics on the corner of Mt. Hope and Pennsylvania avenues was foiled as store owners turned away a woman.

But that is only what has been reported, Garcia said, and the department is ramping up efforts to track medical marijuana crime. There could be more, he said.

“I’ll tell you this: We’re in the process of trying to better capture these types of incidences,” he said.

On June 13 in Meridian Township, Bill Baechelor was the victim of an armed robbery at his home on Van Atta Road. Lt. Greg Frenger confirmed that armed robbery charges are pending against one person and that an undisclosed amount of marijuana was taken. He would not comment further because the case is still open. Frenger was unaware of any other instances of medical marijuana-related break-ins in Meridian Township.

What does this all mean, especially for people who thought it was innocuous to be growing a few plants in their basement?

It means they’re engaging in a legal but dangerous business, Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings said.

“There are people who make their living by drug rips,” Dunnings said, because it’s a fairly expensive product. “If this is what you do and medical marijuana prices have gotten sky-high, who are you going to rip? Joe the Drug Dealer with guns and pit pulls or Joe Citizen growing medical marijuana?”

Dunnings said he has never seen a situation like this when law-abiding citizens are at a heightened risk even though they may be doing legitimate business.

“It’s sort of like if everybody could print legal money. If someone doesn’t want to set up a printing press they will go steal from someone else,” he said.

Robin Schneider, owner of Capitol City Compassion Club at 2010 E. Michigan Ave., said there needs to be more acceptance of growers’ moving their operations to a commercial facility without fear of being raided by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Property owners ought to be protected for leasing space to growers, she says.

“A lot of us have a vision of a safe grow facility away from our homes,” she said. While she recognizes some growers’ desire to stay at home, there should be more freedom to expand.

“When I was cultivating in my basement I barely slept at night. I knew there was an elevated risk of robbery,” she said.

If they’re set up legally, Dunnings said he agrees with Schneider, whom he has spoken with on multiple occasions.

As for those growing legally at home, Dunnings has some advice: “Be discreet. Get a dog.”