Garden Store and the Pot Police 

Garden Store and the Pot Police 
Posted by FoM on March 14, 2000 at 05:38:23 PT
By Kristin Dizon, Seattle Post-I Reporter
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
If you met Bob Cronk, you'd probably think the mild-mannered, soft-spoken man with deep blue eyes and a passion for all things horticultural was an accountant.You'd be right. You might see him as the kind of guy who runs for City Council. Right again. Cronk ran last November, but got only 40 percent of the vote. That makes him accustomed to a certain level of public scrutiny.
But Cronk runs a garden supply business that has been a target of another kind of scrutiny -- police surveillance.Cronk's Green Gardens store has become a magnet for the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, which has made cases leading to more than 100 convictions for marijuana-related offenses just by watching Cronk's store and investigating his customers, according to an affidavit from one recent case.The task force is a joint effort by the Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and Mercer Island police and sometimes includes a federal Drug Enforcement Agency representative. Last year it seized more than $3.5 million in drugs and $1.3 million in assets, and in the past two years has had a 100 percent conviction rate in cases involving search warrant execution, said Marcia Harden, a Bellevue police spokeswoman.The task force declined to say how many people have been followed from Cronk's store, but Harden said detectives aren't camping out in the parking lot."They're too busy just to sit there and follow people around," she said."They (Green Gardens) specialize in hydroponics and that's somewhat difficult to find. . . . It just makes the detectives' jobs easier to have a place like that, that supplies equipment where there's a decent chance they're using it to do something illegal."Brian Daggett, a Bellevue police officer and task force member, declined to be interviewed in detail for this story, but said, "There are other stores that sell indoor grow equipment, but I'm not sure how dirty the customers are."But Cronk, 45, said he feels harassed by officers who have been watching his business.It is news to Cronk that his store -- a small, plain shop in an industrial strip mall on Bel-Red Road -- may have a reputation as a popular place for pot cultivators.Cronk said he doesn't cultivate marijuana or associate with those who do.About once a year someone inquires at the shop about growing cannabis and is promptly asked to leave, he said."I don't know anything about the drug culture," he said. "We want to be known as a place that has some of the best and most innovative products for gardening. We don't want to be known as the place for dope growing."He estimates his shop sees 500 to 1,000 customers every month, but he sells mostly wholesale to retailers."People shopping here shouldn't have to worry about having their door broken down. People shouldn't be suspects for buying garden supplies here," Cronk said. "It's nobody's damn business what you buy here, anymore than what you walk out of the drugstore with."He says he doesn't know what he can do about it, but he wonders why the task force is focusing on his store when there are several within a half-mile radius that stock similar wares.Harden acknowledges that other nearby stores sell the same items, but Green Gardens concentrates on hydroponics."For us the advantage is that's all they sell," she said.Wearing a crisply pressed white shirt, black jeans and bright, scuff-free white tennis shoes, Cronk's voice takes on a reverent, ministerial tone when he extols the virtues of hydroponic, or dirt-free, growing.Hydroponic gardening is faster, more efficient and produces better flavors in produce, Cronk said. He knows that some of the same equipment -- high-watt lights, odor-cleansing ozonators and metal light hoods to direct heat downward, among other items -- are also commonly used to grow marijuana.But they're all legal products with legitimate purposes, he and others say. And they want to know why Green Gardens is under the microscope. "He's in their neighborhood, so it's easy for them," said Jeff Steinborn, a local lawyer who largely represents clients who face marijuana charges. "That is the only store I have seen busts come out of."Attorney Bob Leen once represented a client who was nabbed after being followed from Green Gardens."The police are engaging in something that I'd call targeting," Leen said. "The police have no prior suspicion of them (the customers). They're saying that the fact that people go to this store is enough to justify checking them out."Sheila Weirth, a King County deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the task force full-time, said following people home is a common tactic."(Police) don't have to have probable cause to start following anyone. What you do is exposed to the public -- the police can watch that," she said.Detectives then develop further evidence of marijuana growing by checking near the residence for the strong, distinct odor of the plant and finding out if electric bills are much higher than average -- an indication that high-watt grow lights are in use."You could be growing tomatoes or orchids with these, but we've never found that," Weirth said.But people like Judy LaPlante say police aren't always right.LaPlante, a regular Green Gardens customer who lives just outside of Bellevue, said she recently saw a King County Sheriff's car cruising back and forth in front of her house. The avid gardener suspects the officer was interested in the 1,000-watt bulb in her greenhouse, where she raises flowers and keeps a turtle tank warm."I like to build things. If I go out to Eagle Hardware, is somebody going to follow me and see if I have legal permits to build something?" LaPlante said. "Where do you draw the line?"Cronk wonders the same thing."If we outlaw anything with a possible illegal use, then we'd have to outlaw everything," he said. "This is like trying to stop poaching by controlling the sale of fishing supplies."P-I reporter Kristin Dizon can be reached at 425-497-1660 or kristindizon seattle-pi.comBellevue:Published: March 14, 2000 1998-2000 Seattle Post-IntelligencerCannabisNews Articles on Grow Lights:
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Comment #2 posted by arcturus on March 14, 2000 at 18:21:21 PT
hits home
On the money again Kap. Seattle is my hometown and this article and your comments are prompting another letter to the editor from me. I can't see my self avoiding the points you've made. I hope that's okay. Thanks for your continued presence here.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on March 14, 2000 at 06:45:18 PT:
Only der guilty need fear!
Here we go again. Another SchutzStaffel wannabe chomping at the bit:Sheila Weirth, a King County deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the task force full-time, said following people home is a common tactic. "(Police) don't have to have probable cause to start following anyone. What you do is exposed to the public -- the police can watch that," she said.Right. So that means the police can spend all day, being paid by us, using now-expensive petrol paid for by us, driving around, just following anybody they please? No reason for it? No justification... like probable cause? They are using our tax-appropriated resources; to what end? You can bet it is not job satisfaction. Look a little lower than that.Are they catching murderers? Nope. Too busy watching the ag shop. Are they investigating a burglery? Uh-uh, they're too busy following some sweet young thing that's just come out of the ag shop with a large package; let's see where she lives (nudge,nudge,wink,wink). Might be a nice place she lives in if she can afford to buy from the ag shop. Hey! If she bought from the ag shop, she's probably making mortgage payments with dirty money from growing and selling weed! Yessir, do a forfeit and they get the house. Really sweet deal. It might seem like spoofing, but I'm not; the infamous Donald Scott case proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the operation against his ranch was launched *solely* based upon the expected amount of forfeited goods the police hoped to acquire. Which, in the case of the ag shops, put the police on a the same level as a burgler; the police are riding around, following prospective forfeiture targets home in the same way a burgler does in casing a joint for a hit. And for exactly the same reason. But because they steal with a badge, it's 'legal'.
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