Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just say no.

Jennifer Huffman
Napa Valley Register
Monday, February 21, 2011 12:00 am

I’m a reporter. I’m supposed to pay attention to what’s going on in my world. But did I know that the house next door to us had become a full-on marijuana factory? Nope.

It all started with a knock at the front door. A law enforcement agent, showing his official ID, informed us that our neighborhood was under surveillance.

Under WHAT?, my husband said.

Have you noticed anything funny going on at the house next door? The officer asked. People coming or going, lights left on all night or strong odors?

We think your neighbors have turned the house next to you into a marijuana grow house, he said.

A drug house, I said. Great. It’s hard enough to tell kids to “just say no” to drugs. Now we were living next to the drugs. What was next, a meth lab in the basement? Fields of poppies in the backyard?

Come to think of it, I had noticed a skunky smell in the air in recent weeks. But I figured it really was a skunk. I didn’t realize that marijuana plants smell like skunk. I may be from Northern California, but I am not a pot plant connoisseur.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the house next door. It had been more than a year since the original owners moved out and we’d hardly noticed our new neighbors since then. The lawn was mostly mowed, and the tenants kept to themselves.

Here’s how clueless we were. On one side of the drug house lives me, a journalist. On the other side of the drug house lives yet another journalist. You’d think if anyone would know what was going on in the neighborhood, it would be two so-called professional reporters. But did we notice the house in between us had been turned into a marijuana factory? Nope. Not us.

Turns out it was the neighborhood kids that had the first inkling of something goofy at the marijuana mystery house.

After the agent visited us, we gathered the girls around.

There’s something funny going on next door, we told them. We don’t really know what’s up yet, but it’s best to avoid playing in the next-door driveway for now.

No problem, they said. We already saw the camera.

The WHAT? There’s a camera on the house?

Yeah, they said. It’s attached to the garage and pointing at the front door. It’s been there for a long time, they said.

We were under surveillance by the police and the pot growers? Jeez, maybe I should call in the IRS as well.

After the agent left, I googled “suburban marijuana grow house.” Turns out that taking over a quiet tract home in the suburbs was the new hallmark of pot-growing gangsters. They move caretakers into the empty homes, cover all the windows, bring in a bunch of grow lights, and start watering little marijuana seeds.

We had no idea, said one neighbor in Sacramento living next door to a grow house.

I knew the feeling.

Weeks went by. Every time I came home, I avoided even looking at the house, for fear the supposed drug lords would catch me glancing their way and decided Ms. Nosy Neighbor needed to be “taken care of.”

One night while I was at the grocery store my husband texted me.

Don’t come home, he said. Agents and cars blocking the streets. They’re raiding the house.

I was missing the grow house raid! I’ll be right there, I texted. Take pictures!

Arriving home, I saw the pot house was filled with officers and agents. The window blinds were drawn up and the lights were on.

Over the past weeks I had imagined the home filled with a forest of pot plants with water hoses and watering spouts everywhere. But when we finally could see into the house, there wasn’t a pot plant in sight.

Was the drug bust a bust?

Turns out, no. About an hour later, the evidence finally appeared. Tall, leafy plants were piled into trucks and carted away. A PG&E truck pried the meter off the outside of the house and drove away. All that was left was a giant-screen TV sitting all alone in an empty living room.

Months later, the home was gutted, remodeled and sold to a very nice new family.

Did you hear about the pot? We asked them when we met them.

Oh yes, they said.

Did you find anything funny left over in the house?

No, they said. Only a bunch of Christmas decorations in the attic. We used them to decorate the lawn.

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