What recourse do I have when someone steals my cannabis plants? I have a small outdoor cannabis garden that I cultivate over the summer. This is the second year in a row when someone has come and yanked the plants — right before harvest (they weren't even really ready!). Can I call the police, or would they just laugh at me? Would I be narcing on myself for even asking the cops?
— Cranky Carol
I am so sorry your crop was stolen — that totally sucks. A pox on whoever took off with your cannabis plants and may they only smoke moldy buds forever more! While a well placed curse might make you feel better, it won't get your plants back, so let's take a look at what you can actually do. To help with your query, I contacted folks who know what they're talking about. The helpful legal team at Oregon's Green Light Law Group chimed in to explain what your rights are when it comes to stolen cannabis!
Let's start off assuming you live in a state where growing your own cannabis (for medical or recreational purposes) is legal. According to Emily A. Burns, Associate, and Perry N. Salzhauer, Partner, at Green Light Law Group, if your personal stash has been stolen, you shouldn't hesitate when it comes to contacting the police (Mother's note: It should be noted that our readers of color, or other marginalized folks, might want to assess all risks when contacting the police).
However, just because you can report the stolen property to the police, you need to decide if it's worth your time. The lawyers we contacted informed us that "... most state laws use a monetary threshold to distinguish between petty theft and grand larceny, so theft of personal property valued at less than ~$500 or so generally constitutes petty theft, a lesser offense than grand larceny."
The first thing you want to figure out is what was the value of your stolen crops. If it is less than $500, it may not be worth it to report. However, if you had enough plants to push the theft into grand larceny territory, it will possibly increase the interest of law enforcement in your case. That said, Burns and Salzhauer stressed that in Oregon they "haven't seen much of an appetite on the part of law enforcement officials to investigate crimes involving stolen marijuana plants, even when the theft is from licensed recreational marijuana facilities."
So, while legally you are fully within your rights to report the theft, the police may send your case to the bottom of their pile.
Since you might not have much hope when it comes to the police, I asked the folks at Green Light Law Group if you can report to the stolen crops to your homeowner's insurance. Afterall, they're on your property, right? Partner Brad Blommer explained that the answer is not so simple. "Courts remain divided over whether stolen marijuana items or plants are covered by homeowners' insurance, as insurance companies have challenged coverage of stolen cannabis goods."
Blommer explained that five years ago, a Hawaiian court said that a homeowner's insurance policy did not cover stolen medical cannabis plants, which were valued at $45,600, even though growing medical cannabis for personal use was lawful under state law. The court used the fact that cannabis is still illegal federally as their reasoning, stating that the insurance company would have to violate federal law in order to purchase replacement plants. That said, some insurance companies have started to extend homeowner's insurance coverage to the loss of medical or recreational cannabis, but only, of course, in states where cannabis is lawful for medical or recreational use. Blommer said that it doesn't hurt to try: "If you live in a state where pot is legal, and you get robbed and your stash is taken, we suggest making a claim against your policy and putting the issue to the insurer."
If you happen to live in a state where cannabis is still illegal, you might want to hold off on calling the police. While you can't get arrested for reporting stolen cannabis, if the police show up to investigate and there happens to be any other cannabis around, you can get in trouble for that. And, even if they found your stolen stash, they won't be giving it back.
"While it is legally permissible to prosecute someone for stealing someone else's 'drugs,' it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which a prosecutor, judge, and criminal defense attorney believe it is in everyone's best interest to commence with prosecution when the case involves stolen marijuana property," explains Burns. "It is almost more likely that a judge overseeing the case would ask whether it was April Fool's Day, before promptly dismissing the case and moving on to more pressing matters…. like child custody disputes, evidentiary hearings, etc."
With all that said, perhaps it's time to invest in some cameras and a good alarm system!