Pots and Plans
The Orlando Sentinel has an article about marijuana grow houses. What these farmers do to avoid detection and how police have to keep up with them. Down in my part of Florida, grow house busts are so common in one county, I call it Pot St. Lucie rather than Port St. Lucie.
Is keeping marijuana off the streets worth the effort police put into it? This drug isn't dangerous, so why isn't it legalized? Heroin, cocaine those are entirely different manners, but the criminalization of marijuana just doesn't make sense to me. I won't use it, I'm sure most people won't either. What harm will be done if its legalized? Feel free to express your opinion.
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The inside of Pablo Comas-Rivera's Minneola home resembled a well-stocked indoor nursery, complete with water jugs, specialized growing lights and two dozen plants as tall as Christmas trees.
But when Lake County narcotics agents busted Comas-Rivera late last month, they said the towering, 7-foot-tall leafy trees were marijuana plants -- with a street value of more than $1,000 each -- and part of a sophisticated growing operation.
Local law-enforcement officers report that more people are taking the risk of operating high-tech grow houses in both rural and urban areas, and that the hundreds of marijuana plants seized in the past three months confirm the trend.
Close to 1,000 marijuana plants have been seized in raids in Lake and Volusia counties combined in the past three months. Osceola County agents found 57 plants, and Orange County deputies discovered close to 200 plants during the same period. Seminole had the fewest number of plants seized -- only two -- since April.
"Historically, Lake County has always had substantial marijuana-plant seizures," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Christie Mysinger.
Lake County deputies and narcotics agents since April have eradicated nine indoor and outdoor marijuana grow sites, seized 555 plants and arrested seven suspects on charges of cultivating the drug, including the 20-year-old Minneola man arrested and charged with growing 16 young marijuana plants at his home.
"Given the number of grow sites and seizure of plants in the past three months, I will say that we are above-average this year," Mysinger said.
By comparison, the Lake Sheriff's Office in 2006 seized 498 marijuana plants, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement.
Volusia officials are seeing a similar trend in their area.
Agents have seized more than 440 marijuana plants since April, according to sheriff's records. FDLE reported at least 432 marijuana plants seizures in Volusia in 2006.
In May, Volusia County deputies found 126 marijuana plants, valued at $378,000, in a bedroom closet and detached garage of Melissa Cathcart's home near New Smyrna Beach. Cathcart, 38, was charged with manufacture of marijuana and possession of marijuana, among other counts.
Volusia County agents in May seized about 350 plants from a home in Deltona.
Another home near New Smyrna Beach was busted in April when the East Volusia Narcotics Task Force arrested 55-year-old Oscar Peatross on charges of cultivating 118 marijuana plants in his barn.
Peatross, who was found hiding in the bushes and wearing night-vision goggles, had equipped his barn with a sophisticated irrigation and ventilation system.
Conditions inside grow houses have become so favorable that plants such as the ones found in Minneola can grow to extreme heights.
For example, a West Volusia task force in April found more than 200 marijuana plants growing in a DeLand garage, including a "monster plant" that towered more than 9 feet.
Despite the proliferation of indoor growing sites, rural counties historically have provided marijuana growers with places to hide their operations, such as wooded areas or agricultural land.
"Rural areas have a lot more space to do the outdoor growth in," said Cheryl DeGroff-Berry, the bureau chief of administrative services at the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement.
Lake County detectives recently found an outdoor marijuana site in a wooded area in Clermont and seized 445 marijuana plants, each capable of producing 2 pounds of processed marijuana and with a total estimated street value of $445,000.
Growers also have fine-tuned their homes to avoid detection.
Comas-Rivera tapped into nearby power lines to mask the amount of electricity he was using to power his growing equipment, including fans and lights.
"In recent past, the typical indoor grower would just hook up his operation and not worry about the power usage, which was a good law-enforcement indicator for marijuana grows," Mysinger said.
"Growers are now finding ways to tap into their electric lines before reaching the meter, thus not showing the true power usage and stealing from the power companies."