First, all growers should know the basic laws regarding aerial surveillance. Law enforcement aircrafts are not allowed to violate FAA rules, which mandate that fixed wing aircraft must fly at least 1000 feet above congested areas and 500 feet above sparsely populated areas. Helicopters can fly lower, at approximately 500 feet or even lower, so long that they aren’t “physically intrusive.”
However, on the hill, we all know cops constantly violate these rules, particularly with helicopters. Thus, the question becomes: “What can you do about it?” Here are a few actions that cannabis farmers can take when aircrafts are too close to your garden for comfort:
- Document it!
All aircraft have their identification numbers on the side. If you can read them, it’s too close. So write it down! Quietly take a photo or video, but don’t make a big stink about it.  In fact, write down everything they do, particularly if they circle you or pass back and forth repeatedly (also called “aerial acrobatics”). If law enforcement ever shows up at your garden, your lawyer will probably kiss you if you’ve already documented any of the following:
- Date and time.
- Aircraft number, color and other markings
- Flight pattern (i.e. did they fly in a circular, zig-zag, or back and forth pattern? If so, how many times?)
- Estimate how many feet the aircraft was above you. Was it at tree-top level? Could you see into the eyes of the pilot or any passengers? Can you document what any of them were wearing or doing?
- MOST IMPORTANT: Document how the helicopter’s close altitude affected your senses. Could you feel the wind from its wings? Could you feel dust being kicked up into your face? Was the noise deafening? Were you scared for your safety?
2. File a Complaint With the FAA.
If the law enforcement aircraft is coming too close, the FAA should know! The FAA takes this seriously and will contact the pilot quickly. They may even ground the pilot if their conduct was dangerous. You can file a complaint by emailing them at FAAHotline@faa.gov or using their online form here: https://www.faa.gov/contact/safety_hotline/.
This is strong medicine and should be used cautiously, as the FAA is a federal agency and their complaint form requires you to disclose your name and address.
3. Get Your State Law Game on Point.
If you get a close fly-over, particularly one where the aircraft circled you, consider yourself officially on the Sheriff’s radar. Thus, I advise all my clients who have a contact with law enforcement to consider it a warning, and for Goddess sake, take this opportunity to make sure your conduct complies with state law!! I know trim is getting close and friends are starting to trickle into town. But this is a time to keep on your toes, not to relax. Not quite yet.
Also take this opportunity to remind your staff they are not allowed to make any statements to law enforcement. Never. None. Nada. NO STATEMENTS. If you cannot do this due diligence because you’re either too scared or too lazy to have a grown-up conversation with your workers, get another job. #truth
4. Get Naked.
This one is my favorite, but it only applies to helicopter surveillance of gardens on the same property as one’s home. The reason is that the law gives greater respect to that “intimate activity associated the sanctity of a man’s [or woman’s] home,” which means officers are not allowed to look as closely at those areas near a home where folks historically kept an outhouse, hung their bloomers, or sunbathed in the nude. The more naked you are, the greater your “expectation of privacy.” #seriouslytho
In prepping for this blog, I actually took my staff up in a small plane and toured Nevada County! To be sure, full season outdoor plants grown in a patch are easy to spot, even from a plane at 1,000 ft up. While it was impossible to see inside a greenhouse with my naked eye, my cell phone camera did a fairly good job of spotting green-colored foliage from within greenhouses that had the sides rolled up. So expect another blog in late February – prior to the outdoor planting time – discussing how to alleviate this easily-solvable problem (and how it is unwise to have an outdoor garden on the same site as a light dep or greenhouse!!). But that’s a story for another day…
I close this post with a reminder that unlawfully obtained evidence may be suppressed in any criminal action, although it is near impossible to get it suppressed in a civil ordinance action. So, yes, cops may legally cut you down, even if they learned about you illegally. Know this! Our sacred herb grown under the sun is soon ready to bless up, so please be safe out there during these final few weeks, my dear friends and family.
Much love, ~hb
#roots #legalizeit #cali4life
As always, I end my blog posts with a musical meditation: John Holt’s legendary “Police in Helicopter,” a roots classic that’s been banging in every roots dancehall I’ve ever been in since I was a kid. And that’s no small number.
We don’t trouble your banana, we don’t trouble your corn.
We don’t trouble your pimento, we don’t trouble you at all.
But if you continue to burn up the herbs, we gonna burn down your cane fields.
*Written by Heather Burke. Legal research by Heather Burke and Sarah Smale.
 This rule applies to aircrafts owned and operated by law enforcement, as well as to those private carriers who contract with law enforcement.
 If you do take photos or video, please immediately get them to your attorney and then delete them from your phone. If law enforcement does execute a search warrant, they will seize your phone and the photos/videos will be lost or used against you.