Marijuana Goes Upstate

Florida moves into the number two spot when it comes to grow houses

The proposal would step up penalties against suspects with children present at a grow house and allow cops to slap trafficking charges on people caught growing 25 or more plants. Under current state law, growers can be charged as traffickers only if they have more than 300.

McCollum says his plan will make it easier to send pot growers to prison. "The current law was designed when we had people growing marijuana in open fields," he says. "Today growers try very hard to keep the number under 100 but are producing a much more potent and lethal strain of marijuana." The level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in pot, is higher, he says. "Back when we were thinking about Woodstock, THC levels in marijuana were only four percent," he says. "Today plants being grown hydroponically have 20 percent THC, in some cases 30 percent. This is a highly toxic chemical substance."

McCollum's bill has caught the attention of NORML, the nation's leading advocacy group for ending prohibition against marijuana. "McCollum's years in Congress are marked with some of the most ridiculous, unconstitutional, undemocratic, nonsensical approaches to drug policy," NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre says by phone from Washington, D.C. "Unfortunately he is now your attorney general."

South Florida grow houses: The number of marijuana-growing operations in each county busted during 2006-2007
South Florida grow houses: The number of marijuana-growing operations in each county busted during 2006-2007

St. Pierre says law enforcement officials are only now catching up to a cash crop phenomenon that has been going on for years. "It's not because there is all of sudden a huge explosion of growing indoors down there," he says. "Marijuana is not just the number one cash crop in Florida, but the entire country."

The weed advocate argues that increasing criminal penalties is not going to diminish marijuana use. "This bill is not going to have any real impact except in the pockets of Florida taxpayers," St. Pierre says. "It's just going to result in more people going to jail and the residents of Florida footing the bill."

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