When it comes to indoor marijuana cultivation, Florida is one of the nation’s leaders. Grow houses have been found in more than two-thirds of Florida’s counties, and over 1000 hydroponic operations have been busted in Florida to date. As a result of the drastic increase in marijuana cultivation, Florida has employed multi-agency drug task forces such as HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) that work alongside the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Hydroponic grow houses enable operators to cultivate marijuana plants with higher levels of THC than are typical of plants grown outdoors. Sophisticated hydroponic operations use little to no soil, simulate sunlight by utilizing high intensity lamps, and incorporate irrigation systems of water and chemical fertilizers. Often, these types of operations include specially designed timing systems for lighting and watering, as well as electric meter diversions. Because of the technology used, many cannabis grow houses require little oversight. However, there are cases in which helpers are hired by cultivators to oversee the operations.
The increasing number of arrests relating to marijuana cultivation can be attributed in large part to the tumultuous climate of the economy. The virtually non-existent real estate market has essentially left homes open for cultivation. The rise of abandoned and foreclosed homes in Florida combined with the high level of unemployment has created a perfect storm for cultivation and hydroponic operations.
Not all hydroponic operations are found within foreclosed or abandoned homes. Many such operations are run in rental homes. Growers often rent homes from landlords as tenants, typically looking for homes with large attic space to accommodate the technology that will be used. If attic space is sparse, growers have been found to cut holes through walls, or run their operations underneath the houses in order to provide adequate ventilation for both the high intensity lamps and the dampness caused by the irrigation systems. Heat reducing curtains and blinds, concrete subfloors that absorb heat, foam insulation, and underground exhaust systems are also typical installations and modifications found within grow houses.
Landlords provide an invaluable resource to law enforcement because landlords often have the contractual right under the lease to inspect their rental properties upon giving merely 24 hour notice to renters. If a landlord enters a home and has reason to believe that a hydroponic operation is being run in the home, either because he or she observed hydroponic materials or noticed other unusual modifications or damage to the home (including mold), the landlord may be able to provide the police with the evidence they need to obtain a search warrant. Additionally, landlords and homeowners have incentive to report their findings to the police because Florida law allows charges to be brought against a homeowner or landlord whoknowingly owns a house being used to grow marijuana, even if he or she does not live there. Reporting hydroponic operations immediately upon discovery to law enforcement provides homeowners and landlords a safe haven from prosecution.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kyllo v. United States, 533 US 27 (2001) that the use of infrared technology and thermal imaging to detect heat coming from suspected grow houses is intrusive on Constitutional rights and therefore illegal, law enforcement agencies have had to turn to other forms of investigation to locate hydroponic operations. The police have begun relying upon public reporting of unusual activities relating to the homes: uncommon amounts and types of trash around the home, added electrical equipment, exhaust emissions, unusual warmth around the house, smells coming from the house, et cetera. Many of these types of operations are discovered by law enforcement via anonymous tipsters and informants.
Other factors that alert law enforcement of the potential existence of a grow house may be unnoticeable by the general public. However, high power consumption and unusually large power bills (especially when the small number of people alleged to reside in the home is taken into consideration) are often the keys to discovering a hydroponic operation. Because of this, electricians and power companies are another important resource for the police. FPL can monitor spikes in energy use and report unusually high electric bills to law enforcement agencies. In addition, the very electricians who are paid by growers to bypass electric meters are often informants.
In conjunction with other methods of investigation, police officers have begun utilizing what is known as “knock and talks” at suspected grow houses, wherein officers attempt to speak with homeowners or renters without warrants. Officers have beenknown to undergo long-term surveillance of grow houses, but if they do not have sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant, they can and will try to gain access to a house by knocking on the door and simply asking whoever answers the door if the officers can come inside to talk for a minute. People who are not fully aware of their rights are often caught in this trap, either revealing their operations by cracking open the door enough for the officers to see inside or by letting the officers inside themselves. Once officers have either witnessed the operation first hand or obtained sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant, they may enter the suspected grow house and seize and destroy all hydroponic equipment found, so long as photographs or videos of the evidence are taken. Videos and pictures of the evidence are now allowed to replace the actual evidence itself in courtroom presentation, making preservation of the evidence unnecessary pursuant to Florida Statute 893.10. Police officers who destroy the equipment are immune from civil liability.
Possession of cannabis (less than 20 grams) is a misdemeanor in the State of Florida. However, such charges can quickly transform into felonies when hydroponic operations come into the picture, under Florida Statute 893.1351, the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act. Until recently, Florida law charged growers whose operations had more than 300 plants with a drug trafficking charge. Now, only 25 plants are necessary to constitute prima facie evidence that the cannabis is intended for sale or distribution. A grower with 25 plants can be charged with a second degree felony which carries with it a maximum sentence of 15 years in Florida State Prison. Grow houses that are found to have been the homes of a child further transform those same charges into first degree felonies, with a maximum sentence of 30 years in Florida State Prison. Florida’s new grow house laws are even tougher than the Federal standard, which allows up to 100 plants before a trafficking charge can be pursued. Florida statutes, specifically section 893.135, define marijuana plants as seedling or cuttings with noticeable “root formation.” Thus, even dead or already-harvested cannabis plants are figured into the total plant count by law enforcement. In addition to prison time, fines included with such charges can be in the tens of thousands, and they can be enhanced if the accused is a prior offender.
Hiring a qualified and experienced attorney is critical in your defense against trafficking charges arising from a marijuana grow house or hydroponic operations. An experienced attorney will be able to examine your case and question all of the methods utilized by law enforcement, from the investigation all the way to the arrest. Determining whether your Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures has been violated will be essential to your case, and a skilled attorney will be able to examine the issue and possibly have your charges reduced or dismissed based upon such violation. Drug trafficking charges are not something that should be faced without a knowledgeable attorney in your corner.
The Law office of Roger P. Foley aggressively defends clients that have been arrested in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach counties. If you or someone you know has been charged with drug trafficking, contact our office immediately for a free consultation.
|Other Ways Grow Houses are Discovered:
|Key Grow House Indicators:
Applicable Florida Statutes:
893.135 – Defines a cannabis plant: “a plant, including, but not limited to, a seedling or cutting, is a “cannabis plant” if it has some readily observable evidence of root formation, such as root hairs. To determine if a piece or part of a cannabis plant severed from the cannabis plant is itself a cannabis plant, the severed piece or part must have some readily observable evidence of root formation, such as root hairs. Callous tissue is not readily observable evidence of root formation. The viability and sex of a plant and the fact that the plant may or may not be a dead harvested plant are not relevant in determining if the plant is a “cannabis plant” or in the charging of an offense.”
893.1351(1) – Makes it a third degree felony for a person to own, lease, or rent any house or structure with the knowledge that the house or structure will be used for the purpose of trafficking, sale, or manufacture of a controlled substance.
893.1351(2) – Makes it a second degree felony for a person to have actual or constructive possession of any house or structure with the knowledge that the house or structure will be used for the purpose of trafficking, sale, or manufacture of a controlled substance.
893.1351(3) – Makes it a first degree felony for a person to have actual or constructive possession of any house or structure with the knowledge that the house or structure will be used for the purpose of trafficking, sale, or manufacture of a controlled substance and who knew or should have known that a minor lived in or was present at the house or structure.
893.1351(4) – Explains that proof of the possession of 25 or more cannabis plants constitutes prima facie evidence that the cannabis is intended for sale or distribution.
775.082 – Provides the applicable punishments for violations of the above cited statutes:
- First Degree Felony: Punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years
- Second Degree Felony: Punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years
- Third Degree Felony: Punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years
- First Degree Misdemeanor: Punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year
- Second Degree Misdemeanor: Punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days
The cultivation of any drug is considered a serious offense that can will result in prison time, steep fines, community service, loss of license and substance abuse counseling if you are convicted. Depending on what is cultivated and the amount cultivated, whether it is marijuana, hash, hallucinogenic mushrooms, or other controlled substance, the charges could range from a 3rd degree to a 1st degree felony. This means that you will be facing anywhere from 5 years to 30 years in prison per count charged. Felony offenses can carry very severe penalties, including minimum mandatory sentences.
Crimes with minimum mandatory sentences mean if you plead guilty or no contest, you will go to prison for a minimum mandatory time period (years), and you will not be released before that sentence has been served. Depending upon the charge, the minimum mandatory sentences in the state of Florida could be either 3, 5, 7, 15 or 25 year prison sentences. In plain English, if you think that you are going to get any mercy from the judge, just know that the judge can only give you the minimum mandatory sentence mandated by statute. It is important that you understand that you will not receive any mercy for any reason whatsoever – no matter what the circumstances may be. When you are charged with a crime that has a minimum mandatory sentence, you need to hire an attorney. This not something that you can handle yourself and it is not something on which you can defend yourself. You either plead guilty or no contest and suffer the consequences, or you hire a defense attorney who will take the necessary actions to win your case. It is very important that you contact a qualified Florida criminal defense attorney who will be able to help you.
To have the opportunity win a cultivation case, you need an experienced and aggressive defense lawyer who will research and investigate issues such as entrapment,violations of your constitutional rights or other law enforcement errors that will help you win your case. The legal team at the firm has successfully handled cultivation cases and may be able to help you.