Thieves target hemp at Colchester farm

COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) Colchester Police say there have been several incidents of thieves taking hemp from a farm in Colchester -- a case of mistaken identity since the passage of Vermont's marijuana legalization law in July.

Surveillance photo

Thieves attempting to pilfer plants from Humble Roots Horticulture in Colchester will find nothing humble about their security.

Trespassers on the hunt for marijuana are an increasing sight here. Six incidents -- and twelve arrests -- later, the hemp farm is ever-watchful, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cameras, pepper ball guns, bulletproof vests, and an electric fence on the way -- all to protect their crop.

"This is from one of the first incidents. If you open this up you can see they have taken some of the plant," said the farm's Evan Fuller. "That has really affected this plant's growth. This is actually going to be something that we burn."

Fuller says the thieves are on the hunt for marijuana, not hemp. They use hemp to make oil in balms or salves. It can't get you high, but thieves' ignorance is costing these farmers thousands of dollars. "It's really frustrating," Fuller said.

Frustrating because even if police are able to recover the stolen plants, they can't be used because of quality control. "We have a pretty deep pit in the back that we've been burning the hemp that has been taken from the property," Fuller said.

Colchester Police Chief Doug Allen says they want to reiterate the message too -- this isn't pot, and stealing hurts the farm's bottom line. "It's actually running into the hundreds and thousands of dollars in losses for this Farm, and each plant is worth a lot of money. And people are not only taking, but damaging the crop as they go in as well," Allen said.

Colchester Police also want anyone who's thinking about stealing hemp plants to know that it's a pretty serious crime. Theft over $900 is grand larceny, which is a felony. And $900 is only about two plants.

"They have come in -- and we believe this is with a machete -- have grabbed the plant and just chopped," Fuller said. He says they are adding more security measures in the future. And he says he has this message for would-be thieves: "We're here and we're vigilant. And it's also not what you're looking for and not worth the hassle," he said.

Fuller says they're frustrated by the state's decision to publish the names and addresses of hemp farms online. They say that's made them a greater target for thieves.