Police: AZ medical marijuana card holders becoming targets - CBS 5 - KPHO

Police: AZ medical marijuana card holders becoming targets

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Since medical marijuana is now legal in Arizona, it's pretty much everywhere.  

About 1 in 225 people has a state card to legally possess or grow medical marijuana across Arizona.

But in some cities you'd least expect, it's a lot more common. 

In Paradise Valley, for instance, the ratio is 1 in 16.

And now, Phoenix police say neighborhoods that had not seen a lot of drug crimes are starting to as the bad guys sniff out these newly legal grow houses.

They can be across from schools or playgrounds.

Now police are investigating a rash of violent home invasions, beatings and shootings - all tied to medical marijuana being grown out of homes in neighborhoods like yours.

"A girl came up to the door, I opened it, two guys rushed me with guns, brought me inside and zip-tied my hands and my feet and closed the curtains," said a man only identified as Dave.

The bad guys were after his pot.

Dave is a licensed medical marijuana patient, whose also legally allowed to grow it in his own home.

"I went for the door, and they shot me. I was still trying to get out, and they hit me over the head and knocked me down," he said.

The bullet hit just inches from Dave's heart and is still lodged in his pelvis.

The thieves stole his marijuana, his car, credit cards, cash, computer, cameras and gun.

Neighbor Margarita Esquivel doesn't like the new law legalizing medical marijuana and letting people grow it in their homes.

"Innocent people sometimes get hurt because of their neighbors. It makes me afraid," she said.

"It doesn't matter what neighborhood you live in, what part of town you live in or what city you live in," said Officer James Holmes with Phoenix Police.

He said Dave's wasn't the first legal grow house to be hit, and it won't be the last.

"And we're worried about that," he said.

In March, a middle-aged couple legally growing medical marijuana had their northwest Phoenix home broken into. The husband was bound, gagged and beaten by thugs looking to steal their drugs.

They live right across the street from a popular park and playground.

"Very easily, they could have been killed," said Holmes.

In January, a home in Surprise was broken into where, among the estimated $60,000 in stolen property, was the homeowner's medical marijuana grow and supply.

Rodney Trujillo is a father of two young kids who live down the street in Dave's north Phoenix neighborhood.

"As a parent, you know, sometimes it's scary," he said.

Trujillo doesn't want crime in his neighborhood, but he's also a realist.

"It's almost something you gotta deal with, I guess. The drugs aren't going anywhere," he said.

Dave doesn't think growing medical marijuana is bringing any more crime into his neighborhood than would already be there. He said thieves are opportunists who will go for anything they think they can make money from.

Dave has had his state card since last June.

He said he uses medical marijuana to ease his chronic arthritis pain. He said he tried prescription drugs but had severe nausea and other side effects.

"It doesn't work for everybody, but for those it does, we've got a right to have it," he said.

Officer Holmes agreed but warned, "We just want you to keep that to yourself."

Police say word of mouth is the biggest problem.

Even a seemingly harmless comment made to a friend could be overheard or passed on to someone with criminal intentions.

"It's like telephone. We have a Mr. Bill down the street, and we know that he's a licensed marijuana grower. He talks about it with someone who talks about it with someone who talks about it with someone who wants the marijuana," Holmes said.

And then there's the internet.

Just type medical marijuana into Craigslist and you'll find pages of posts with sellers showing pictures, promising more potent pot than the next guy.

And even though there are a bunch of disclaimers saying they'll only sell to patients with a state card, police say it's still illegal.

Listing after listing showed people giving up their personal numbers and crossroads - an open invitation for criminals.

"We don't want that word to spread that you're, you know, a warehouse for medical marijuana," said Holmes.

Dave said he's stepped up his own home security, having installed a security door and cameras to better protect his home.

"I gotta protect myself," he said.

He also shared this bit of advice for other medical marijuana growers: "You have to, you know, be more aware of your situation and don't think it can't happen to you."

To get a look at how many pot cards the state department of health services has issued for your neighborhood, click this link to look at the latest map that breaks it down by neighborhood and city.

Starting Monday, May 14, the state will accept applications for medical marijuana dispensaries.

It was legalized by Arizona voters in November 2010, but lawsuits have tied up the process until now.

You can apply through the state department of health services, but it's a limited 10-day application window, May 14 through 25.

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