Good Cops

It's an odd sign of progress: People are being arrested for stealing medical marijuana

The story isn't anything new.

A few ne'er-do-wells put on (masks, costumes, fake police uniforms) and burst into a (house, apartment, condominium) where residents are growing marijuana; the ne'er-do-wells wave some (guns, knives, assault rifles) around, and demand money and drugs. They force the residents to the floor at gunpoint, grab the goods and split.

That's where the story used to end, in a lot of cases. But at about 9 p.m. on March 18, three masked gunmen burst through the front door of a legal grow house near Catalina Highway and Houghton Road and grabbed a few thousand dollars, a bunch of MMJ, a handgun and a cellphone.

The last item proved to be their undoing, because the owner immediately found the stolen phone via GPS and—this is where the story becomes something new—told sheriff's deputies where it was. The deputies then tracked and chased the 2001 GMC Yukon, and caught two of the suspects when they crashed at Camino Seco and 22nd Street. A third man escaped and was still at large as of this writing.

The goods were returned to their rightful owner.

Deputy Dawn Barkman, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, didn't know how much MMJ was taken from the caregiver, but a caregiver can grow up to 12 plants for each of five patients, so it could have been several pounds. It's the first MMJ-related home invasion in the county, as far as Barkman knows. Other MMJ states have had problems with robberies like this, Barkman said.

"This is all very new for us. ... I don't know if this is the start of a problem or not," she said.

There are cautionary tales here for MMJ growers and caregivers.

The first lesson I take away—one Barkman offered as well—is a tried-and-true security policy for anyone growing marijuana: If you are going to do it, for God's sake, don't tell anyone. If no one knows you have a few pounds of weed, no one will steal it. I've never grown pot, but it clearly takes a lot of willpower not to tell friends. Mr. Smith advises you to be strong, because those friends might tell other friends, who tell their friends. Before you know it, people who aren't your friends know about your plants. It's enough for you to know that you have it—no one else has to know.

"You open yourself up to a whole new world of criminal activity when you go into this kind of work, and the less advertising there is, the better," Barkman said.

My second takeaway lesson: Never Keep Several Thousand Dollars In Your House. Period. This one also seems like a no-brainer and should be a general policy for anyone, whether they are growing MMJ or not. If you want the cash in your house, be careful. Again, Barkman agrees.

"If you are going to keep a lot of cash in your house, lock it up," she said.

I guess the silver lining in all of this is that two of the three suspects are in custody. Augustin Soto Rivera, 35, and Rosario Ignacio Soto, 25, are charged with three counts each of aggravated assault, armed robbery and kidnapping.

It's nice to finally live in a world where people can be arrested for stealing marijuana. Before last year, these victims of violent crime might have just had to suck it up, for fear of their own arrests. They wouldn't have called police. It makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside that they have a better option now.

Thanks, Pima County Sheriff's Department. Mr. Smith approves.