Santa Rosa police raided a sophisticated marijuana growing operation in a Piner Road business park Thursday morning, discovering more than 100 plants hidden behind a false wall in a car stereo installation business.
Narcotics officers served a search warrant at 957 Piner Place around 9:30 a.m., breaking down the reinforced front door of Audio Legends.
No one was at the business when officers arrived. Inside they discovered about 140 plants, half of them mature specimens up to 5-feet tall, Sgt. Rich Celli said.
The raid illustrates not only the growing prevalence of marijuana growing operations in the city but also the challenge law enforcement faces in sorting out the legitimate from the illegitimate operations.
The building actually contained two separate marijuana growing outfits, one hidden in Audio Legends, the second located next door at 959 Piner Place, where police also served a search warrant.
But the tenants of the second location showed officers paperwork indicating they were operating as a legitimate medicinal marijuana co-op, Celli said.
An employee of the enterprise, who declined to be identified, called the business a medicinal marijuana "collective." The employee, who spent part of the day installing a security camera in front of the business, declined to discuss the operation beyond saying it had "no affiliation" with Audio Legends.
Building owner Gary Arnone, a resident of Marin County, said he was well aware that both tenants were growing marijuana and believed the operations to be legal. He said he spoke to the owner of Audio Legends, Lance Guyan, on Thursday afternoon, and Guyan assured him he was operating legally.
"He had the legal papers to do this," Arnone said. "This is not an illegal operation, according to him."
The plants were being grown in three rooms hidden in the rear of the business, the entrance to one concealed behind a large rolling cabinet. The rooms were fully vented and lighted by grow lights powered by car stereo amplifiers.