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Home » Plants that Look Like Weed, Confusing the Police

Plants that Look Like Weed, Confusing the Police

All that glitters is not gold. And not everything that looks like cannabis is cannabis. There are plenty of plants that look like weed.

While most police officers are competent, some are less so. Full of the typical zeal of the uninformed, vehemently attacking cannabis. Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, these uninformed and unskilled policemen sometimes attack what they think is cannabis but which is not. Here is a small selection of mistakes made by drug police officers worldwide. Better to laugh than to cry…

1. Daisies

In 2012, a specialised police team raided Mr Rockman’s home in Lethbridge, Canada. And removed more than 1,600 marijuana plants before announcing the news to the media, proud of the successful operation. But the operation was not, in fact, a success. Indeed, the 1,624 plants were not cannabis, but Montauk daisies. A perennial autumn flowering plant that Mr Rockman had been growing for almost ten years. Summing up the situation philosophically, Rockman told the Toronto Star: “It made me look like a villain, and it made them look silly.”

plants that look like weed

2. Tomatoes

In 2018, 79-year-old Lulu Matheson saw a team of police officers with dogs violently raid her home in Shieldaig, England. There to seize the cannabis plants she was allegedly growing on her windowsill. Arriving at the scene while the police were inspecting the house, Mrs Matheson’s son, Gus, laughed when he realised the mix-up. Sadly, as he told the Daily Mail, “it wasn’t so funny when they frisked me and then started tearing the house apart.” Gus Matheson eventually decided to press charges, explaining, “Despite leaving with their tails between their legs, the police didn’t even apologise.”

plants that look like weed

3. Sunflowers

Imagine the shock when, in 2005, in the small town of Bel-Air, Kansas, police broke into the home of Harold Smith. The former mayor of the town, on suspicion of growing cannabis in his garden. To add insult to injury, it was in this same garden that the former mayor’s wife, Carolyn, sometimes held meetings of a retirement group she led. The police officers took photos of the plants in the garden showed them to the local prosecutor’s office, who applied for a warrant from a judge, who granted the request. The officers returned to Harold and Carolyn’s house a few days later to find sunflowers that had finally bloomed. The police’s mistake is all the more laughable, given that the sunflower is the emblem of Kansas. As the Smiths’ lawyer told the Ford Scott Tribune, “The plant on our state flag is not a marijuana plant, but a sunflower.”

4. Yucca

During a pro-marijuana demonstration in 2016 in Puerto Rico, 17 people were arrested by the police for possession of cannabis plants. In fact, they were in possession of yucca plants. Although the detainees were quickly released after a judge declared their arrest unjustified, the police did not give up. They conducted several raids on markets around the country searching for other “drug growers disguised as vegetable vendors”.

“Even if we have to raid all the marketplaces, burn down all the vegetable farms or personally search any passerby who looks like a humanities student, we will eliminate the pernicious vice of marijuana from our country […] This is an evil that we have to eradicate completely, literally, because any bush that looks even slightly like marijuana, we will pull out by the roots,” Gumersindo Narvaez, a spokesman for the police force, told the local media.

plants that look like weed

But that’s not all. A first raid in the market square of Río Piedras led to the arrest of five fruit and vegetable vendors for possession of yucca, which, again, the police mistook for cannabis.

This type of news is circulating, and growers who fear the police take inspiration from it. In Costa Rica, for example, illegal cannabis growers hide their plants among yucca trees in the hope of evading controls.

5. Hibiscus

In 2018, in Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania, a tree owned by the Cramers, a couple in their 60s fell into their neighbour’s yard. The Cramers called their insurance company, Nationwide, which sent agent Jonathan Yeamans to the property to investigate the loss. In the garden, Yeamans saw cannabis plants and, being a good citizen, he discreetly took photographs of them and passed them on to the police.

A few days later, the doorbell rings and Mrs Cramer, then scantily clad, goes to open the door. She was confronted by 12 police officers who pointed their assault rifles at her. Ms Cramer was handcuffed and even denied the right to dress. Instead, she was arrested and forced to walk barefoot down the gravel driveway to a patrol car.

Mr Cramer arrived home 30 minutes later and suffered the same fate as his wife: handcuffed at gunpoint and led to the patrol car. The couple had to stay in the car for almost four hours in 30ºC heat while the police searched the property.

The police officers obviously did not find any cannabis on the Cramer’s property. All they found were hibiscus plants that Yeamans had mistaken for marijuana plants. Far from acknowledging their mistake and apologising, the police officers cut down the hibiscus plants and confiscated them, labelling them as “suspect marijuana plants”.

The Cramers, of course, filed charges, including excessive force.

6. Ragweed

While we’re on the subject of excessive use of force, in 2001, in the middle of Texas, Sandra Smith, 56, was held at gunpoint by Capital Area Narcotics Task Force officers who mistakenly identified ragweed at the back of her rural lot as marijuana, whilst carrying out aerial surveillance. They landed the helicopter and ransacked her property without a search warrant.

plants that look like weed

Finding no drugs, they left without so much of an apology. Not surprisingly, Smith sued the task force for violating her civil rights and was awarded $35,000 in damages.

7. Hemp

In June 2017, the biennial architecture festival took place in Lyon, France. As part of this event, architects had planted a mixture of hemp, flax and barley in an area of almost 4,000 square metres. The aim was to use these plants to produce building materials and thus draw attention to renewable materials in the building sector. Unfortunately, the overzealousness of the police drew attention to the installation. Indeed, as soon as they saw this green space in the city centre, the police did not ask any questions and tore it down, as reported by the newspaper Métro.

The confusion between hemp and cannabis is understandable, and the police cannot be blamed for having confused the two. But given the specific context, they could have exercised more caution!

8. Hemp (again)

Overzealousness on the part of the police can have disastrous consequences. It is known that it is impossible to differentiate between hemp and marijuana by eye. But that is precisely why the police should act with greater care.

In 2006, the Albanian police made a record seizure of cannabis. Interior Minister Sokol Olldashi appeared on television to announce the seizure of a tonne of marijuana and the arrest of five people suspected of international trafficking. It took two weeks for the five suspects to be released. They had committed no crime and what they were growing was industrial hemp for export to the US. Two weeks in an Albanian prison for nothing…

9. Hibiscus (again)

In 2015, northwest Harris County resident Blair Davis saw police officers burst into his home, yelling at him to get down on the ground and pointing their guns at him. The officers were confident they had made a major cannabis bust at home. But it soon became clear that the large, narrow-leaved plants they had come for were not cannabis plants but “Texas Star” hibiscus. Davis grows it for his landscaping business.

Undeterred, the ten police officers began searching the house. No matter how much Davis explained the confusion to them, they ordered him to keep quiet. At one point, Davis even overheard them discussing whether a bamboo plant could actually be a marijuana plant. They also asked him about watermelons. You read right: watermelons.

plants that look like weed

After about an hour, they were forced to face the facts: there was no trace of marijuana in Davis’ house. So they withdrew without even apologising to him. Let’s leave the final word to Davis himself: ” If they don’t know what a marijuana plant looks like, maybe they should bring a picture with them before they invade a citizen’s home.”

10. Cléomé Hassleriana

The Swiss are used to cannabis. Yet their police officers are not immune to confusion. For example, police officers patrolling the town of Locle in the canton of Neuchâtel were attracted by suspicious plants growing in the gardens of the Château des Monts. They took a sample to be analysed by a specialist horticulturist in no time at all. It quickly became clear that the plant was Cleomé hassleriana, a common plant in the mountains around Neuchâtel. In contrast to previous stories, this one went off peacefully, and the police acted in an exemplary manner.

plants that look like weed

Let’s hope that police forces worldwide will follow the example of our Swiss friends. Indeed, to see police officers bursting into your home, pointing a gun at you and then leaving without even apologising can be particularly traumatic. Even if the vast majority of police officers are conscientious and respectful of others, those who act like cowboys bring the whole profession into disrepute. When all you have is suspicion, violence and haste are useless.

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

This post is also available in: French

Ben Taub