Birch Bay couple charged for illegal marijuana grow operation

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By Steve Guntli

A Birch Bay couple has been charged for possessing nearly 1,000 illegal marijuana plants.

Steve and Starlare Hovander were arrested after Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office deputies raided 3591 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, a short way down the road from the Hovanders’ farm, which has space for a large farmer’s market out in front. Deputies seized more than 600 plants on January 7.

More than 300 plants were also seized from the property on October 25. Sheriff’s deputies estimate the crop is worth around $1.2 million.

Deputy Ryan Rathbun first suspected the Hovanders after a routine visit to a neighboring home in October. Three people, all of whom had criminal records, pulled into the Hovanders’ driveway and told the deputy they worked at the couple’s farm clipping marijuana buds. Deputies investigated, noticed the strong smell of marijuana and met two other individuals who claimed to work security on the premises.

Deputies reached out to Starlare Hovander, who told them she had a valid license to grow on the property. When asked if she could come in with the proper documentation, Hovander hung up and didn’t answer her phone on subsequent calls.

The Hovanders have a pending license application for a business at Hovander Farms called Serene Greens, but it has yet to be approved, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

After checking on the status of the Hovanders’ licenses, deputies were able to obtain a search warrant and conducted their first search on October 25. Deputies recovered 345 plants and another 154 pounds of processed pot. The plants were brought in as evidence pending charges at a later date.

Around New Year’s Eve, deputies were once again alerted to a strong marijuana smell from the farm. They obtained another search warrant on January 7 and seized another 639 plants, a few pounds of processed marijuana and some hash oil. Deputies left 45 plants on the premises, as three people living at the farm had valid medical marijuana prescriptions. Under state law, medical marijuana patients can possess up to 15 plants per prescription.

The Hovanders were previously arrested in 2011 for allegedly running an illegal grow operation out of two A-frame homes on Mount Baker Highway. Deputies seized 256 plants and five medical marijuana cards, three of which were deemed invalid.

During the investigation, one of the homes burned down, likely due to ineffective grounding on the home’s electrical wires. The first house was considered a total loss after the fire, and the second was damaged.

In 2013, the Hovanders waived their right to a trial jury, and Judge Ira Uhrig found them guilty of manufacturing a controlled substance. They were sentenced to three months in jail, but the sentences were delayed while the Hovanders appealed. The appeals process is ongoing.

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