Marijuana Cultivation Crimes
Florida’s laws on marijuana cultivation are changing as the government alters its approach. This means you need an attorney who is familiar with the current state of the law. The Law Offices of Roger P. Foley, P.A., in West Palm Beach has experience handling these cases. Mr. Foley will examine the particulars of your case. He will look into the process that led to the charges you face, from investigation to arrest. He will determine whether your constitutional Fourth Amendment rights have been violated by unlawful searches or seizures and whether there are any Due Process concerns (14th Amendment). When you are facing drug cultivation charges in Palm Beach County, or anywhere in South Florida, a knowledgeable West Palm Beach Marijuana Possession Lawyer like Mr. Foley can provide the legal help you need. Mr. Foley is a lifetime member of NORML, National Organization For the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
What is a Hydroponic Grow House?
Hydroponic grow houses allow a greater control over the growing conditions, including light, nutrients, temperature and breeding. This, in turn, allows growers to produce marijuana plants with higher levels of THC compared to plants grown outside. Grow operations use little or no soil, replace sunlight with electric lamps, and utilize sophisticated timing systems for watering and lighting. This level of automation means growers need to spend less time overseeing the operation itself.
How do Law Enforcement Agencies Investigate Suspected Cultivation?
Law enforcement agencies previously used technology to detect characteristic grow house heat signatures. However, in Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the United State Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to use infrared and thermal imaging to find grow houses. For this reason, agencies have turned to other strategies to aid in investigations.
Police rely on reports from landlords and the general public to track potential marijuana growing activities. Landlords can shield themselves from prosecution if they report their suspicions to authorities. In Florida, landlords only need to give notice 24 hours prior to enter a rental unit. When a landlord enters a residence and finds evidence characteristic of a grow operation, ranging from materials to mold damage, this can be enough to allow police to obtain a search warrant.
Reports from the general public can also help law enforcement agencies in their investigations. Unusual activities, such as uncommon amounts and types of trash, electrical equipment, exhaust emissions, unusual warmth and smell and other signs can all result in tips from the public. High power consumption levels and large power bills can alert power companies to the possible existence of a grow house.
Finally, police officers are beginning to use a technique known as the “knock and talk” to gain access to suspected grow houses without a search warrant. Officers knock on the door of a residence and attempt to speak with the owner or resident. Sometimes, the officer will ask to enter the building. Residents who are not fully aware of their rights may consent and allow the officer to enter. Then, the officer has the opportunity to observe inside the house and collect sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant.
Law enforcement officers who have gained access to a grow house via consent or a search warrant can enter the house and seize and destroy any growing equipment found inside. Videos and pictures can legally be substituted for actual physical evidence in court. Therefore, pursuant to Florida Statute § 893.10, preservation of the evidence is unnecessary. Police officers who destroy equipment used in a hydroponic grow operation are also immune from civil liability.
Why are Marijuana Laws Changing in Florida?
Indoor marijuana cultivation is prevalent in Florida. Authorities have discovered marijuana grow houses in more than two-thirds of the counties in the state. In total, the government has busted over 1,000 hydroponic grow operations in Florida. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) is a multi-agency drug task force established by the state in order to handle the growing number of marijuana cultivation cases. The HIDTA works alongside the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The increasing number of marijuana cultivation-related arrests can be linked to the recent chaotic state of the country’s economy. The struggling real estate market has left vacant houses available for low prices. These abandoned homes provide attractive options for marijuana growers looking for locations to start their grow houses. However, these operations are not limited to abandoned homes. Growers also use rental units and other buildings to house their grow operations. They often use a number of strategies to ensure their grow houses are not discovered. These include heat reducing curtains and floors, foam insulation, complex exhaust systems and more.
How are the Laws Changing?
While possession of marijuana (less than 20 grams) is a misdemeanor in Florida, operators of hydroponic grow houses can quickly find themselves facing felony charges under Florida Statute 893.1351 (the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act). In the past, growers would only be charged with drug trafficking for possession of more than 300 plants. Now, discovery of 25 plants constitutes prima facie evidence of marijuana that was intended for sale or distribution.
A grower who is caught with 25 plants can be charged with a second degree felony, punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years in state prison. That maximum sentence increases to 30 years when the grow house is found to be the home of a child. A grower with over 100 plants can be charged with trafficking. Under Florida Statute § 893.135, marijuana plants include seedlings or cuttings with noticeable “root formation,” meaning dead or harvested plants, factor into the total plant count. Along with the prison time, these charges can carry tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
The Law Offices of Roger P. Foley, P.A. in West Palm Beach can help if you have been charged with offenses related to marijuana cultivation. Mr. Foley has up-to-date knowledge on the laws necessary to provide the legal representation you need. He will work to ensure your rights have not been violated by the investigation and will defend your constitutional rights to freedom from unlawful searches and seizures.