Scores of empty houses and rentals in Las Vegas – many of them in upscale neighborhoods – have become incubators for crime, namely marijuana growing, says the Las Vegas Sun. The stucco walls and tightly drawn shades hide elaborate systems of special lights, fans, sprinklers and timers, all carefully arranged to cultivate millions of dollars worth of pot. Last year, police raided 108 homes, seizing 12,466 plants and about $70,000 in cash. This year police have confiscated 10,311 plants and more than $90,000 from 112 “grow houses” – more than double the number of homes raided in 2007.
Marijuana growers are moving into commercial and industrial facilities. In September, for instance, police seized about 90 plants in a raid at a large warehouse that neighboring tenants thought was a bakery. The increase may be attributed to Nevada's record-high unemployment and foreclosure rates, which have compelled some financially desperate absentee owners and investors to rent without conducting sufficient background checks, Metro Lt. Laz Chavez said. Homes have been unwittingly rented to the pot growers or criminals squat in abandoned homes. Also a factor is tighter security at the U.S.-Mexico border – “you can't get marijuana across the border as easily as you used to,” Chavez says – along with potentially huge profits from the hydroponically grown crops.