(Note: This article originally appeared in the July/August, 1995 issue of Chile Pepper magazine. I have slightly expanded it.)
Back in our March/April, 1991 issue, indoor chile grower Cap Farmer warned that the use of high-intensity discharge (HID) grow lamps could possibly bring a visit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but I thought he was kidding. Ha!
In mid-March, I was writing on the computer when I heard the Dobermans going nuts in the back yard and soon there was a loud banging on the front door. I opened it and greeted two long-haired guys straight out of The Mod Squad. There was a fifteen-year-old Dodge in the driveway. They both reached into their pockets and pulled out badges.
"New Mexico State Police," said Starsky.
"DEA," said Hutch.
"Come on in--it's been twenty-five years since I had a visit from the narcs," I joked. "And back then I had long hair and they had the wrong apartment."
They looked a little embarrassed and one of them said, "Are you a writer or something?" He'd obviously done a background check on me.
"Yes, I'm the editor of Chile Pepper magazine."
"I thought so," sputtered the other. "It had to be something like that."
"What's this all about?" I asked.
"Well," replied the DEA guy, "we have to check out all the reports we get, no matter how crazy they are--"
"Is this about capsaicin?" I interrupted.
"What’s that? No, someone told us you were growing marijuana."
I laughed. "Not quite."
"It's chiles, isn't it?" asked the state cop, looking around at our household decor. "You grow chiles in your greenhouse."
I took them back to the greenhouse and showed them my just-sprouted habanero seedlings.
"We're real sorry, Mr. DeWitt," said the DEA guy sheepishly as they left.
I gave my farewell: "Thanks for coming without a warrant and tear gas."
Later, when Mary Jane returned, she wondered who had falsely turned us in. "Maybe we burned somebody out at the Fiery Foods Show," she suggested.
That triggered it for me. The show. All the stuff from the show under our carport. And there it was, the large high-intensity discharge lamp from the New Earth Garden Center display in plain sight from the street. The people at New Earth had shipped me the growlight and after the show I had stored it temporarily under the carport. A meter reader had seen it, noticed my ramshackle greenhouse, the Dobermans "guarding" it, and had concluded that I was growing Rio Grande Wowee. He was duty bound to report it to the proper authorities, and so on. No Crimestoppers reward for that guy! Mystery solved. Or so we think.
My attorney, who is rather outspoken, was furious with me when I told him.
"You should have refused to let them in unless they had a warrant," he said. "You should have called me immediately and let me handle it."
"But I had nothing to hide," I protested.
"No matter. You can’t let the police search your house without a warrant."
"They didn’t search it–I just let them see my chile plants."
But he insisted on reading me the riot act about my rights. I still think that I did the right thing. Forcing them to get a warrant would just make them mad, and I had heard of law enforcement officers planting drugs on people they didn’t like. They were gone and I didn’t have to pay my lawyer!