MODESTO — Don't inhale.
That's what President Bill Clinton famously claimed when asked whether he'd tried marijuana yes, but I didn't inhale.
But what if the weed is growing right next door and you can't help but inhale the odor? That's what one north Modesto resident wants to know.
The woman, who I will call Dorothy, said that last year her home began "stinking like a skunk. We checked around and found our next-door neighbor was growing several marijuana plants right along our common fence line.
"We called the police and found out it's still a federal crime, but the seven plants we could see growing wasn't enough to do anything about. Now they have a new grow starting. They have an attack dog and several suspicious people coming and going. We don't talk to these neighbors because of their violence."
Besides the potential violence, Dorothy said, there's also that distinctive smell.
"I have asthma," she said. "We shouldn't have to seal up our home to avoid a marijuana hit."
I don't think these are the kind of folks the late Mr. Rogers had in mind when he sang, "Won't you be my neighbor?"
Chris Adams, an investigator with the Modesto Police Department's narcotics enforcement team, said whether a pot investigation is started "depends on circumstances."
For one thing, marijuana reports increase at this time of the year during the growing season, he said, and the team can't investigate all of them. For another, if a resident has a state-issued medical marijuana ID card (not just one from a doctor), he or she is allowed to grow as many as six mature plants, 12 immature plants or possess 8 ounces of dried marijuana.
"If we investigate and see someone with six mature plants, we'll assume they probably have a state ID card," Adams said. "We may still knock on the door and ask for (proof of) compliance."
If, on the other hand, the entire back yard is filled with plants, or if someone reports that a house seems to be unoccupied, but the air conditioning is running throughout the night and the windows are blacked out, then investigators will seek a search warrant.
In the past year, there have been numerous high-profile pot busts, including raids that have netted 156 plants in south Modesto, more than 800 in Patterson and 10,000 plants growing on 20 acres south of Atwater.
Adams understands that neighbors of pot growers may not like the next-door garden or the pests it attracts.
"Granted, it's a nuisance," he said. Besides the smell, sometimes criminals who know pot is growing in a yard will jump the fence to grab it. "Sometimes, they jump over the wrong fence and get into the wrong yard," he said. "That's when we'll get involved.
"But neighbors have to understand there is some protection (for some pot growers) under the law."
Take heart, Dorothy. I've passed along your address and that of your neighbor, and Adams promised the police will investigate. I'll check back later this year to see if anything's been done.
For the rest of you who have neighbors growing the green stuff, Adams said it's best to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. The dispatch operators taking the calls will know the right questions to ask to aid investigators in their work, he added.
Please note: You must send me your true name, address and phone number with your questions. Rarely, as in this case, I will protect identities to keep people from possible retaliation. Complaining about problems with a neighbor's cat, dog or karaoke singing, however, is not enough to justify using a pseudonym.
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.