One of the biggest urban legends in the marijuana world is that if your electricity bill is too high the power company will tell the cops and they will raid your marijuana garden. As long as I have been involved in the marijuana industry, this theory has been assumed by almost everyone that I know. But is it true? And if so, how much electricity is ‘too much’ before you come up on the radar?
Let me start by saying that there is no ‘smoking gun’ that I have ever heard of that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that power companies do this as a set policy. It would be nice if power companies would post something on their website that specifically confirms or denies a policy, and exactly how much electricity is the difference between normal and suspicious. However, I’ve never heard of or read anything from a power company putting something like that out there for the public to see.
So what we are left with is personal experiences and what the news tells us. I will give an example of what I have experienced being a marijuana grower in Oregon, and hopefully other people from around the country will put comments below giving their experience. The more people we can get sharing this information, the better an idea we get of what the power companies policies are. The highest electricity bill that I ever got was over $700. The house had gas as well, so the $700 wasn’t even for all the power in the house. The house was a four bedroom, 2.5 bath in a nicer neighborhood. The bill was consistently $650-750 for about a year and a half before I dismantled the garden. Not one time did the power company or cops ever inquire about our garden, not once. In my area, a normal power bill is more like $150-200, so I know my $700+ bills were definitely out of the ordinary.
My garden was 100% legal according to Oregon law. There is a limit on the number of plants a medical marijuana grower can have in Oregon, but there is no limit on the amount of light you dedicate to those plants. As a result, we gave each plant more light than it could ever want, which of course explains why our bill was so high. I was very curious to see if it resulted in a visit from the cops, since I didn’t really have anything to lose being completely legal. But they never came. I’m not saying that if your bill is $700 or under you are in the clear, because maybe it’s different in different jurisdictions. However, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, that was my experience, so take it for what you will.
Once upon a time I used to smoke with a guy who’s brother worked for the electricity company in my area (Portland General Electric). He swore up and down that the electricity company had a deal with all of its employees that if they tipped off law enforcement to a marijuana grow house, they would receive a $500 bonus. It’s just a word of mouth thing, but I figured it was worth mentioning. Is there any readers out there that used to, or currently do, work for a power company? If so, please share your knowledge so that others can benefit.
I read an article in the Post and Courier that talked about this exact topic. As I stated earlier in the article, news stories are about the best source to know more about the topic of electrical usage and law enforcement. Apparently, a former cop found out the hard way how the process works when cops raided his illegal marijuana garden. Here is what the article had to say:
“Court papers recently filed in the case revealed that investigators were tipped off by the tenant’s utility company. Edisto Electric workers called police after noticing unusually high electricity use on the property and numerous instances of tripping circuits, authorities said.”
One thing that I found interesting was how the article kept giving the impression that this is rare, and that it doesn’t rally occur, but then at the same time all the power companies refused to comment. Just read how suspicious the next line is, “Area police and utility company officials say such incidents are relatively rare, and some power companies insist they wouldn’t turn in customers simply because their bills are high.”
So the facts are people are being turned in for high electricity usage, which is proven by court documents. All the while power companies and cops won’t admit what they are doing, and trying to play it off like, ‘don’t worry, we would never do that.’ To me, this is just a tactic to get people to get complacent so that the power companies and cops can bust easy targets. With ‘smart’ meters being installed all over the nation, it will only get easier and easier.
Another excerpt from the article that might shed more light on the subject, “Narcotics Detective Shaun Tumbleston testified in a hearing on the case last week that Edisto Electric was concerned in late 2009 because its workers kept having to go to Stable Lane to reset a transformer after the circuits overloaded. They couldn’t figure out why a rural property with no residence was racking up electric bills of $800 a month, he said.”
“People don’t have an expectation to privacy in every area of their lives,” said Charleston criminal defense lawyer Michael O’Connell. “And I don’t think you have a privacy as to what your electricity bill is.”
I have always wondered why the power companies would want to throw their best clients under the bus. Like I said, I was paying over $700 a month, which is a hefty sum. One would think that the power companies would want all customers to pay that much! Another line from the article had a fact that I found significant, “Indoor growers are estimated to consume about 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, enough to power some 2 million homes, according to a study released last year by Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.”