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Drug bust takes surprising twist

Marijuana at commercial building in Lodi turns out to be legal; ‘meth’ is deodorizer

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 3:23 pm | Updated: 5:28 am, Thu Sep 16, 2010.

For a while Tuesday, it looked like it might be a major bust: a couple pounds of meth and dozens of marijuana plants. But the bust deflated when the meth turned out to be crystallized deodorizer and the pot plants turned out to be legal.

The operation at a commercial building off Auto Center Drive turned out to be a legal pot-growing site for a Stockton family, police said.

“After the search, we found they are in compliance with their legal marijuana cards,” said Detective Hettie Schaeffer, of the Lodi Police Department.

Around 2 p.m. Tuesday, police arrived at the scene with a HAZMAT team to search the building.

At first, authorities believed they had also found up to two pounds of meth. After inspection, the Lodi Police Department determined it to be a crystallized deodorizer used to mask the smell of the plants.

Several fire engines stayed on the scene for nearly two hours as officers and Sheriffs deputies searched the warehouse.

Sheriff’s deputies were on the scene because the police called for more manpower, Schaeffer said.

“It was a waste of resources for four fire engines,” Schaeffer said.

Police were tipped off to the operation after receiving complaints from business owners in the area who were smelling marijuana early in the morning. Narcotics officers monitored the location for several days prior to the search and said that for hours at a time no one was entering or leaving the complex.

Detective Nick Rafiq said he observed the building’s electrical meter and noticed it was using six times the electricity of any other unit in the complex. The spike in power use is due to the operation’s exhaust fan and ultraviolet lights for growing.

After obtaining a search warrant, officers descended on the building Tuesday.

The unit is rented to Darren Dean. He and his mother both have medicinal marijuana licenses and have been renting the unit since April. He told the property owner he was using the space for storage and painting materials. Ladders, drop cloths and painting supplies were located in the unit, as well as the customized structure for growing marijuana.

The plants are in the flowering stage and Dean expressed concern that they could be damaged from excess sunlight during the afternoon search.

“If they would’ve called me I would’ve let them in,” Dean said.

Dean’s mother has lupus and glaucoma, he said, and his medical marijuana card enables him to grow for his stomach and back pain. There are 30 female plants in the room, he said.

“We grow for our own use,” he said.

Police seized a small amount of illegal fireworks and found minor code enforcement issues with the grow room, such as some electrical outlets that need to be moved, Schaeffer said.

Tim Katzakian, who owns the complex Dean rents from, said he wouldn’t have rented to him if he knew Dean intended to store and grow marijuana.

Although the event wasn’t the bust police were necessarily expecting or hoping for, Cpl. Val Chaban said the police don’t regret searching the building and following up with concerned business owners.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.

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