Weed Warriors

Hydroponic marijuana production is growing up

Perhaps the most ominous development in the hydroponics revolution is what Smith likens to a cocaine cartel. One member of Smith's team, Det. Carl Cooper, was part of what initially appeared to be a routine bust three summers ago — a two-person marijuana-cultivating nursery in the Redland. But then investigators discovered a paper trail. Ultimately a task force dubbed "This Joint's for You," comprising state, local, and federal law enforcement, busted a multimillion-dollar ring of more than twenty growhouses throughout Florida on a single day two summers ago. "It was the biggest seizure so far," Cooper says.

There are a few reasons Smith and Cooper don't expect cartels to disappear. In addition to the money, the production process is far from secret and the punitive risk is minimal. "If you get caught with 150 kilos of cocaine, it's life in prison," he says. With a marijuana growhouse, even if you're busted with 60 plants, you could get three years. "And often," adds Henry S., "they just get probation."

Smith and his crew know marijuana isn't the menace of crack or heroin, but he shakes his head at the notion that marijuana isn't a problem. "Listen, I don't care who you are, where you are, but everyone knows someone who was extremely talented. Maybe a straight-A student. And then they only want to smoke pot. And start flunking out," he says.

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