By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"The federal laws are so much stronger, and the sentencing is so much better, the discovery process is less stringent -- there are numerous reasons why we would prefer to take a case federal," says Garcia.
Even so, offenders are generally first arrested under state laws, so law enforcement has more room to make deals. Norman Kent has seen such flexibility in action. "What they'll do is turn to a defendant after he's arrested and say, 'Look, you cooperate with us right now, and maybe we'll keep this in state court and you will get a chance for probation. But if you don't cooperate with us at this moment, we will turn this over to federal authorities. They will prosecute you, and you might be facing jail time,'" Kent says. "The most frustrating thing for me as a lawyer is that I have to explain to these people who elect to grow marijuana -- especially those who grow it commercially for profit -- that when they're caught and it's a good arrest, they will go to jail. They will do time, and it will radically alter their lives as they know it. And it's devastating to these people, because many of them have never been arrested, or jailed, or prosecuted, or faced incarceration. The best thing I can do as a public service is to remind people that no matter what they think personally or politically, this stuff is still very much illegal, people are very much prosecuted, and they very often go to jail. Anybody who's doing it needs to know they're doing it at great personal risk to themselves and their families and their friends."
From October 1, 1994, to September 30, 1995, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida imposed sentences on 636 drug offenders, all but seven of them dealers or other traffickers. Forty-three of those sentences were meted out to marijuana offenders.
One of them was Mark I. Printz, who pleaded guilty on June 30, 1995, following his arrest the previous October, to having 110 rooted plants in his home. He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, to be followed by four years' supervised release.
By phone from the work camp of the Federal Correctional Institution on SW 137th Avenue in South Dade, where Printz, now 31 years old, will remain for another 28 months, the former grower says his sentence could have been a lot longer: He had a few hundred clones in the house that had not yet grown roots. "A plant's not a plant if it doesn't have a root," he imparts with obvious relief.
"The smarter people, I guess, just grow a small amount in their closet, three or four or five plants to supply themselves and a few friends and make enough money to pay for the expense of doing it," Printz says. "I don't want to say that if you go twenty blocks in any direction you're going to find a grow house, but there are so many millions of people smoking pot, there's a tremendous number that are growing now because it's a lot safer to grow your own weed, especially if you keep the quantities small."
If only Printz had followed his own advice at the house in Sunrise (the fifth such house he had operated in Broward County since 1988), he'd probably be out of prison by now. Someone had told him about the federal sentencing guidelines that put his grow in the five-year mandatory-minimum range. But he didn't adjust to lessen the potential penalty. "I'd been growing for so long, I sort of lost my paranoia," he laments.
That wasn't his only mistake. Besides selling cheaply or giving his product away and helping friends set up their own grows, Printz admits that he frequented several of Fort Lauderdale's glitzier strip bars, where he'd put quarter-ounce bags of his homegrown weed into his waistband "as sort of a tip" for the dancers. There was also the matter of the affair with the woman who lived down the street: When that relationship ended, she sent him a letter asking for money, noting that she "wouldn't want to inconvenience your world." He didn't comply, and soon found himself busted on an anonymous tip. (High Times recently printed a letter submitting the "Top 10 Stupid Grower Tricks"; Printz was guilty of at least three.)
His questionable judgment continued after the bust. While out on bail before his trial, Printz flew off to the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, for which he'd already registered. He didn't win. But he did blow off his court date, making him a fugitive. After staying in Europe a few months, he decided to return -- "I missed my two kids," he says. With a five-year sentence, he'd be eligible for parole in two years, he figured. Not so, of course, when you're playing by the mandatory-minimum rules.
Printz's wife has divorced him. With more more than two years left on his sentence, his only regular visitor is his father, who drives down from West Boca Raton every weekend. Despite his ardent belief in the cause of marijuana legalization, Printz now says he wouldn't think of rekindling his risky love affair with pot when he gets out.