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.
"This is well-built," Celli said as he inspected a room filled with about 70 one-foot-high plants in 12-inch containers.
A second room contained the larger plants, which were heavy with buds and emitted the strongest odors. Officers were later seen removing the plants and piling them in front of the business before disposing of them.
A third room, which was empty of plants, had grow lights that automatically moved across the ceiling, a technique used to make the plants stronger, Celli said.
The rear rooms contained large bags of fertilizer. Detailed growing instructions were posted on a nearby wall, a sign that the grower may have at times paid someone to look after the crop, Celli said.
Posted on a nearby wall was a copy of the text of Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot initiative that made medicinal marijuana legal in the state for those with a doctor's recommendation.
In addition, officers also found hundreds of rounds of shotgun and rifle ammunition, several rifle and handgun clips, a bulletproof vest and a significant amount of cash, Celli said. No weapons were discovered in the business.
It is unclear what documentation Guyan has or whether he was legitimately allowed to grow marijuana and, if so, how much. He could not be reached for comment. Arnone said Guyan told him he is "not around" and had contacted an attorney.