SELMA – Farmers growing industrial hemp in Fresno County have been the target of thieves who think the plant is marijuana, according to a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office press release.
Three such cases have been reported recently, two of which were in Del Rey and one in Selma.
“To the naked eye, it is difficult to distinguish a hemp plant from a marijuana plant,” the Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Tony Botti said. “Not only do they look the same in both the juvenile and adult stages, they smell the same and have flowering buds.”
Botti reports growing hemp has often proven dangerous since thieves arm themselves with guns.
A hemp farm near the intersection of East American and South Leonard avenues in Del Rey was robbed of hemp plants around 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27. The property owner reported a couple of people were loading the plants into their vehicle when he approached them. One of the suspects pointed a gun at the farmer and then drove away.
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Sheriff’s deputies searched the area, but couldn’t find the suspects.
Around 7 p.m. on Oct. 4, a group of 15 to 20 people went to the same property to steal plants. The property owner reported at least one of the suspects had a gun. The thieves fled by the time deputies arrived.
In another instance, around 7 a.m. on Oct. 7, deputies detained two men who were attempting to steal hemp plants from a field at South Willow Avenue, just south of East Mountain Avenue in Selma. They had about 25 plants valued at $5,000 in their possession.
Fresno’s Frank Carrillo, 39, was booked into the Fresno County Jail on a felony charge of grand theft in the case. Another Fresno man, Abraham Garza, 51, was booked into the jail on the same charges. Garza also faces a misdemeanor charge for possession of methamphetamine.
Hemp farms are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. It keeps records of all licensed industrial hemp facilities. Aside from the license, growers are required to post proper signage on their property informing the public that their fields contain hemp plants, not marijuana. These plants contain only .3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and thus, do not have the same effect of the drug. Growers also typically post no trespassing signs.