Locals ask state help to battle pot houses

Published June 22, 2007

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS - Marijuana grow houses are becoming so prevalent in Florida that local law enforcement is calling on the state to create an intelligence repository to combat the problem.

"The days of mom and pop growing a couple pots of grass in their house is gone, " said Mark R. Trouville, chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Miami office.

The upswing of indoor marijuana growers in Florida culminated Thursday in a strategy meeting between officials from the agency and local and state authorities.

"We're so overwhelmed with the operational side of things and we're only working in our own little functional jurisdictions, " Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said.

Florida has the second highest number of indoor marijuana growers behind California, Trouville said. In 2006, officials in 41 of Florida's 67 counties uncovered indoor growers, he said.

"Local law enforcement is keeping up with the day-to-day operations, but we're missing the intelligence piece to pull it altogether, " Benton said.

In these houses, the marijuana is typically grown hydroponically - that is, using a nutrient solution instead of soil. It is usually cut, dried and packaged on the premises.

Marijuana grown this way is as much as 200 percent more potent than if the drug were grown outdoors, Trouville said. Growers can harvest the drug in three months as opposed to six months in the fields.

"This ain't your grandfather's or your father's marijuana, " Trouville said. "This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you."

The state needs a centralized library to serve as an evidence storehouse, Benton said.

Thursday's strategy session comes less than a year after authorities in the Port St. Lucie area broke up one of the largest and most sophisticated marijuana rings ever uncovered.

More than 50 grow houses involving thousands of marijuana plants were linked to a scheme in which New Jersey financiers allegedly offered people "relocation packages" featuring 100 percent financing for homes. The homes were converted into marijuana grow houses, which the homeowner agreed to operate for two years.

Fast Facts:


Marijuana houses

Some signs that a house might be the site of an indoor marijuana farm:

- The windows are often covered, and the blinds drawn. There may be excessive condensation around the windows.

- Electrical outlets may be rigged to divert power from neighboring homes.

- The houses are largely unoccupied. People stop by periodically to mow the lawn or do other chores, then leave.

- There are guard dogs, "Keep Out" signs or other security.