Bud Men

Despite the risks, local pot farmers have taken homegrown high-tech

He flips to shots of the house next door, where the growers lived and used an NEC laptop computer to communicate by modem with the various timers and sensors in the grow house. Miami police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents converged on the two houses, at 13555 and 13575 SW 196th St., on October 15, seizing 800 plants. (Though the site was far outside city limits, it was Miami police who discovered the existence of the operation; they teamed up with DEA agents to conduct the raid.) Six people have been arrested in the case. All face federal charges of manufacturing marijuana and conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.

For years the DEA and other law enforcement agencies have acted on tips from informants, scrutinized suspiciously high electric bills, and conducted aerial surveillance with infrared cameras to identify and bust operations like this one in South Dade. And local law enforcement officials say the number of busts will likely increase. By the beginning of last month, 104 indoor marijuana grows had been hit in Florida in 1996, according to the DEA. Last year's total was 159, but police in South Florida have been working hard for the past month and a half to rack up more busts this year. For the past two years, agents from DEA and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with a Metro-Dade police officer, have been working as an impromptu task force, specifically investigating indoor marijuana growing. Moreover, as the market cries out for more and better-quality marijuana and local indoor growers move to fill that need, more of them are getting sloppy and getting caught.

"As we arrest people regarding these homes, we start getting more and more intelligence as well," adds Garcia. "You know what I'm saying? A major tool for the police departments is, being that there's not enough jail space, oftentimes we're more willing to trade what we call 'substantial assistance on the part of the defendant' to help us uncover more and more of these things than to give him his full term in jail."

If the number of indoor grows here is increasing, experts say local law enforcement agencies shouldn't be surprised. Interdiction of the flow of imported marijuana through the late Seventies and early Eighties led importers to opt for more compact, concealable, and valuable contraband such as cocaine. Vincent Flynn, a Miami attorney who defended many marijuana traffickers in the days when "square grouper" regularly washed up on beaches and bales fell from the sky, believes the crackdown on smuggling also led to the local rise in indoor growing. "In Miami, based on arrests, there's virtually no importation [of marijuana]," Flynn says. "It makes no sense, because of the domestic production, and because the obstacles are so great."

Further, the lack of available local farmland -- and the lack of natural cover on what farmland there is -- makes indoor growing the most viable method of producing cannabis. In fact, the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee, a multiagency federal body that disseminates drug-related intelligence, issued a report last year naming Florida as one of the top six states in indoor growing. (The others were California, Oregon, Colorado, Georgia, and Washington.)

"This pattern is based upon a simple premise: that the drug smugglers and dealers are rational economic actors who, once they perceive a risk, take appropriate adjustments in their behavior to try to escape detection," reasons Steve Wisotsky, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie and author of the book Beyond the War on Drugs. "Then you have a pretty predictable series of responses, where the supply side of the market has been moved toward more concentrated and more potent drugs and methods of production that are more secret, and therefore more difficult to detect."

American-grown pot is now up there among the best in the world, a fact stressed by law enforcement agencies and the media alike, especially in reference to hydroponically cultivated marijuana. This is a bit of a red herring, as most of the bells and whistles associated with hydroponic growing -- high-pressure sodium grow lights, CO2 tanks, nutrient solutions -- merely function as accelerators of the growth cycle (a crucial consideration when you're growing in a limited space). Two factors are involved in actually boosting the potency of marijuana: One is the sinsemilla method, which was developed by outdoor growers in southern Asia centuries ago. The second involves using high-quality strains of marijuana to begin with, varieties that go by names like Northern Lights, Early Pearl, Skunk, and Haze. "Like everything in this world, it's all in the genes," says Allen St. Pierre, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Washington, D.C. "You could have the absolute worst dope in the world, grow it in the very best of circumstances, and it will still be shitty pot. But if you have excellent genetics, then at least you're starting off with what is potentially going to be a very good product."

Of course, it's much easier to control polination indoors: Walls and windows are an effective means of keeping male plants at bay. And pot people and law enforcement officials alike agree that hydroponics is the best way to maximize the potential of genetically superior marijuana. The result is stuff that's known in South Florida as "krypto" or "crippy" weed, renowned for stoning people silly with only one or two hits.

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