Budding flowers poking over the top of a worn wooden fence and into a Payson south alleyway.
A dark, musty basement full of plants at a hilltop home in Payson North.
And buds blooming on the porch of a Pine-Strawberry home, clearly visible from the street.
All three medical marijuana gardens triggered raids and arrests by Payson Police, when people with medical marijuana cards allegedly violated the strict limits on growing your own marijuana set by state law. Violators end up facing the same penalties as people without medical marijuana cards who grow pot.
While the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows registered cardholders to grow at their homes, they must follow protocol. If their gardens fall outside those lines, police take the entire plot.
Police Chief Don Engler said many cardholders either don’t understand the rules or are pushing the limits of the Medical Marijuana Act.
“A lot of people are stepping outside the law,” Engler told a group of citizens at a Friendship Club meeting last week.
Regardless of their understanding of the law, when officers find a cardholder growing outside the statute, they seize all of their plants, paraphernalia and medical marijuana.
Most recently, police found one cardholder growing more than 30 plants in his basement. Under the law, each cardholder can grow up to 12 plants. A registered caregiver can grow a dozen plants for up to five cardholders.
“He must have had a problem with math,” Engler joked of the recent suspect.
Officers stumbled on the garden April 26 while investigating a domestic violence call in the 1400 block of North Fairview Drive.
The man’s girlfriend told police he had thrown things at her and was growing medical marijuana in the basement to boot, according to a police report.
Officers reportedly found more than the allotted 12 plants in the home’s basement. Detectives towed the plants back to the department and put them in storage.
The department stores all medical marijuana plants and clippings in a locked facility. After they are dry, they are marked and packaged into evidence.
The department is required to keep the plants past any appeals. Then they destroy them. The PPD does not plant, water or care for the medical-marijuana plants, Engler said.
Besides growing more plants than the law allows, a number of cardholders are growing the plants outside, in unsecured back yards. The state’s voter-approved law stipulates that all medical-marijuana plants must be grown in enclosed, locked facilities. This can be inside or outside, so long as they’re not visible.
If grown outdoors, a wall at least 10 feet high, made of metal, concrete or stone, must block the view. The yard must also have a 1-inch thick metal gate. A greenhouse meets these requirements if such a wall also surrounds it.
Between August and September last year, in at least three cases police found cardholders growing medical marijuana clearly visible outside.
In the 200 block of East Cedar Lane officers could see the tops of marijuana plants growing over the home’s 6-foot-high wooden fence and into the alley.
“The plants would be accessible to anyone walking in the alleyway and they were right on the fence line on the back property line,” wrote Det. Chad DeSchaaf in a police report.
Armed with a search warrant, officers confronted several people at the home. They found plants growing throughout the back yard, against the back fence and in tomato cages. Inside, marijuana plants and leaves were drying.
In all, officers took 34 marijuana plants from the home. The homeowners, who had medical marijuana cards, asked why police were taking the plants.
“I explained to him the reason that it was all illegal after they had stepped out of the guidelines of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act,” DeSchaaf said.
Police submitted charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and production of marijuana to the county attorney.
Also in August last year, DeSchaaf investigated a cardholder growing marijuana outside in Pine-Strawberry.
While assisting the Gila County Narcotics Task Force with a search warrant Aug. 21, DeSchaaf spotted marijuana growing in the back yard of a home in the 3700 block of North Ellison Drive.
The homeowner told DeSchaaf he had a medical marijuana card to grow as a caregiver and for himself. DeSchaaf explained that although he had a card, the plants could not be growing in public view and the tops of the nine plants were visible from the roadway. Inside the man’s home, DeSchaaf found more plants.
Police took the plants and paraphernalia and submitted charges of cultivating marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia to the county attorney.
DeSchaaf explained to the man that the Medical Marijuana Act does not protect him if he doesn’t follow the guidelines.
Finally, in September, police found cardholders growing plants in a back yard in the 800 block of West Payson Parkway. “Upon our arrival in the area, while we were driving down Payson Parkway, we were able to see over the fence from the roadway and were able to observe marijuana plants sitting on the back porch of the residence,” DeSchaaf said.
Although the yard was fenced, it was well below the 10-foot minimum. Police questioned two men with medical marijuana cards at the home. One of the cardholders said officers had told him it was fine to grow outside.
DeSchaaf said that at the time officers told him that the law was relatively new and “officers were not completely up to date on all the rules and guidelines from the Medical Marijuana Act.”
Now, officers understand that the plants cannot be visible and must be secured by a larger fence.
DeSchaaf submitted charges of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia and cultivation of marijuana to the county attorney’s office.