~ New law tackles for-profit growers, aids law enforcement ~
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act has been signed into law, giving Florida’s prosecutors and law enforcement essential tools to combat for-profit growers of marijuana. The new law, sponsored by Senator Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) and Representative Nick Thompson (R-Ft. Myers), passed as House Bill 173 during the 2008 Legislative Session and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist today. The bill was developed because of the increasing number of grow houses operating in the state and violent crime which tend to be associated with these operations.
“Grow houses are not only furthering this dangerous drug trade within our state, they are bringing violent crime into our neighborhoods,” said Attorney General McCollum. “This new law will help protect our families and communities.”
The new law makes it a second-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants, targeting for-profit growers who exploit Florida’s previous threshold of 300 plants. The law will also make it a third-degree felony to own a house for the purpose of cultivating, packaging and distributing marijuana and a first-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants in a home with children present.
“Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America and we must take a stand against the for-profit growers who were previously exploiting higher thresholds,” said Sen. Oelrich. “By lowering the number of plants necessary for criminal charges, we’ve given Florida’s authorities valuable tools in the fight against these criminal operations.”
“Grow houses have become a very real threat to the safety and security in too many Florida communities,” said Representative Thompson. “Floridians who use grow houses to traffic drugs belong in prison. This law sends the message loud and clear that if you grow, you go. I am grateful to Attorney General Bill McCollum for his support and Governor Crist for signing this bill into law.”
Recent statistics reveal the alarming increase in the number of grow houses being maintained in Florida as well as the ever-developing levels of sophistication of grow house operations. Marijuana grow houses primarily specializing in hydroponic marijuana have been detected in more than 40 of Florida’s 67 counties and within the past few months, cooperative efforts by law enforcement statewide have taken down more than 140 houses and seized more than $41.6 million worth of marijuana. Another recent case out of Palm Beach County brought charges against 29 people who were part of a drug trafficking ring which operated and maintained 25 marijuana grow houses throughout Palm Beach County and one in Miami-Dade County.
Other important aspects of the law will provide substantial benefits to Florida’s law enforcement community. Previously, law enforcement around the state were required to store cumbersome grow house equipment in order to preserve it as evidence. To address this growing storage burden, the new law allows a photograph or video recording of equipment used in the cultivation of a marijuana plant to be considered as evidence in the prosecution of the crime. The law will also allow law enforcement to destroy grow house equipment upon the completion of all investigations and provides immunity from any civil liability to law enforcement for the destruction of the grow house equipment.
The Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act goes into effect on July 1, 2008.