By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Four people were arrested yesterday when drug detectives found a north Centralia home housing an approximately $1.3 million marijuana growing operation.
Law enforcement discovered seven growing rooms, each set up in a sophisticated manner to include lights, ballasts, fans and a hydroponic watering system, according to authorities.
They counted 901 plants, each capable of producing about a pound of marijuana.
The arrestees included a 27-year-old man and his 21-year-old wife who are students as well as a 46-year-old woman and a 79-year-old woman. They said they live in Portland.
Members of the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team began investigating the house on Susan Street in August with records from the power company that showed a high use of electricity, according to court documents.
When two of the detectives knocked on the door yesterday, Chaohui Tan, 27, answered questions and said he had a medical marijuana authorization but wouldn’t produce it, according to court documents. Because of his evasive demeanor, police decided to remove everyone to preserve any evidence, the documents relate.
Mei Lan Su, 79, was contacted in the basement trimming plants, according to the documents.
All four were booked into the Lewis County Jail and charged today with manufacture of marijuana in Lewis County Superior Court.
They spoke to a judge this afternoon in court making use of a Cantonese-Chinese interpreter.
Temporary defense attorney Mike Underwood requested court appointed lawyers for each of them.
He said they all live together in a Portland home owned by one of them, Nianhua Chen, 46, who is the only one with a job. She works in a restaurant earning about $1,600 a month, Underwood told the judge.
Manufacture of marijuana has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh began by asking the judge to hold them on $500,000 bail. She said she was concerned about them returning to court, given the large scale of the operation and the potential for access to other assets.
The first defendant, 21-year-old Xiaohui Zhang, has no criminal history that either Beigh or Underwood were aware of. Underwood asked she be released on her personal recognizance.
Judge James Lawler set bail at $50,000 for her and then for the other three.
Information in their court documents list three of them as residing at a Portland address and the 79-year-old as living at 216 Susan Street in Centralia.
Lewis County records show the five-bedroom home in Centralia was purchased in July of this year by an individual with a San Francisco address.
Tan told detectives he purchased all the equipment himself and doesn’t have a job, according to court documents. Detectives checked and found no state license to grow marijuana had been issued for the address.
Their arraignments are all scheduled for next Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court.