PORTLAND — The Oregon Court of Appeals says that officers had enough cause — a spike in electric bills and observation of comings and goings — to get a warrant to search a home suspected of being an illegal pot growing site.
The ruling issued Wednesday comes after a judge suppressed prosecutor’s evidence at a trial, saying the search warrant should not have been issued because at least one of the three occupants in the home had a card to grow medical marijuana.
The case began in 2010, when an anonymous caller complained of a marijuana growing operation at a Beaverton home.
A pair of informants then contacted police and said people arrived at the home empty-handed and left with duffel bags, including a pizza-delivery driver.
In July 2010, a Washington County narcotics team began surveillance on the house. In one instance, they watched a person leave the home, drive an SUV to meet a person in a sedan, hand something to the driver and drive away. The police stopped the sedan and found pot. The driver said she bought it from the person in the SUV.
The investigation also found that electric bills at the home showed a spike in usage in 2008, and remained high, which police called an indication that residents were using marijuana grow lights.
The narcotics team obtained a search warrant and moved on the house.
The occupants protested and said the police had no probable cause to search the house. They also argued that informants who supplied information to police were not reliable.
A trial court judge said the warrant should never have been signed, saying the house was already listed as a lawful grow site for medical marijuana. Also, police shouldn’t have been able to use the electric-bill information because factors other than marijuana grow lights could have led to the increase in power usage, the judge ruled.
Prosecutors appealed. They pointed to the information about the drug transaction, as well as the firsthand nature of the informants’ observations, and said that should lead the appeals court to reverse the trial court judge’s decision.
The appeals court partially agreed that the evidence should be allowed at trial. The court ruling said the officer’s training, along with the observation of a purported drug deal and the spike in power usage, indicated the residents were growing more than the amount permitted by law for medical marijuana users.
“It is not seriously disputed that (a police officer) had ample information to establish that marijuana was being grown at the residence,” appeals court judge Rex Armstrong wrote in the opinion. “The question is whether the affidavit could properly support a determination that there was probable cause that unlawful activity related to marijuana cultivation was occurring.”
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