By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Toke It Easy
Snap out of it, 4/20 revelers: Florida legislators want to stomp on your buzz.
The good people who run the State of Florida are celebrating the cannabis culture's favorite day, April 20, by ruining it for weed lovers.
In Tallahassee, an enthusiastic majority of legislators is supporting a bill that would increase criminal penalties against indoor ganja farmers, who have made Florida the second-largest producer of homegrown, high-quality bud, behind California. Under the proposal, growers would face second-degree felony charges for having 25 plants — the current threshold is 300 — and a third-degree felony for intent to harvest, as evidenced by equipment such as special lighting or irrigation systems. If children are present, a grower faces a first-degree felony.
So what's behind the state capitol's reefer madness? It's the surge in elaborate grow houses busted by local, state, and federal narcotics agents in the past three years. From Sebring to Homestead, more and more people are growing the state's number one cash crop (See "Marijuana Goes Upstate," November 8, 2007). Lawmen dismantled 944 grow houses and eradicated nearly 75,000 plants in 45 counties — twice the amount of chronic destroyed in 2006, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's 2007 Indoor Grow Report.
In a continuing trend, drug detectives are coming across more growers in Southwest and Central Florida than in Broward and Palm Beach counties, where cops found a combined 5,300 plants inside 66 sites. By contrast, in Lee County alone, narcos killed 7,646 plants and shut down 95 grow houses.
The 305 remains number one in the FDLE's rankings. Narcotics agents here made 971 arrests and exterminated 26,019 plants last year, a 65 percent increase over the number reported a year ago.
Not that it always takes much detective work to stumble upon a local grower. Consider the apprehension of Miguel A. Perez: Last Thursday, he and his wife drove to a Homestead gas station, where she called 911 to report a shooting. Her husband was the victim, hit in the gut by an unknown assailant. But the couple didn't want the cops to meet them at the scene of the crime — their home at 13230 SW 256th Street.
Detectives traced the assault back to the house, where Perez was cultivating 100 pot plants. He has been charged with a felony count of possession with intent to distribute.
The sponsor of the Tallahassee proposal to boost the power of the bust, Fort Myers state Rep. Nicholas Thompson, did not return a phone call seeking comment. On April 3, Thompson, a 42-year-old Republican prosecutor serving his first term in the legislature, told the Naples Daily News that "grow houses have become a very real threat to the safety and security in too many Florida communities. Floridians who use grow houses to traffic drugs belong in prison." Riptide suggests that Thompson just spark one up and relax.
One local's solution to energy dependence is just a bucket away.
Thomas Cope, a 22-year-old landscaper from Fort Lauderdale, says he has the solution to global warming, fossil fuel shrinkage, and four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices — all in a little contraption in his back yard.
Cope says he and friend Dave Kaehele have built a motor that runs on water. Yes, in the liquid that covers three-quarters of the Earth's surface lies the secret solution to all of our fuel problems.
"It's clean, it's cheap, and it's completely doable," Cope says. "If you put this into a car, you'd never have to go to the gas station again. Or you could drive up to the pumps and fill up on the free water. Most people have to see it to believe it."
A visit to Cope's back-yard lab confirms the contraption exists. Amid the lawn chairs and crumpled beer cans sits a machine that appears to be running a small scooter motor off regular drinking water.
Exuding a stoner-on-his-day-off look — tattoos, baggy shorts, puffy hair — Cope takes a sip from the water supply, just in case there are any doubts. Nailed to a makeshift workbench is an acrylic cylinder filled with water and baking soda. Into the water, Cope places a stack of five steel plates, latched together and connected by wires to a 12-volt car battery. As the magnetized plates charge, the water begins to bubble. This is electrolysis — chemical decomposition prompted by an electric current. The electricity is, in effect, breaking water molecules down to their atomic components.
Hydrogen — a gas with enough explosive energy to blow things up — released from the bubbling water moves through a tube to a plastic bag sealed with duct tape.
"That's the holding chamber," explains Kaehele, an easygoing graphic designer who can't wait to hook the device up to a boat.
From the chamber, the gas moves into a PVC pipe filled with water — "the bubbler, to make sure backfires don't blow this whole thing up," Cope explains. Then another tube sends the gas straight to the four-horsepower combustion motor, which suddenly chugs to life.
It didn't run long before a backfire shut it off. But hey, it did run.
So have Cope and Kaehele solved the world's energy problems?
Not quite, says University of Southern California chemistry professor Stephen E. Bradforth, an expert on molecular dynamics and water chemistry.
"People have known about electrolysis producing hydrogen for 200 years," Bradforth says in a phone interview. "What they've done is kind of novel in terms of burning just the hydrogen, but the chemistry back-end of this is nothing new."
In other words, if there were an efficient way to run a motor using electrolysis, "we would all already be driving water cars," says Bradforth. "It sounds like they've created a garage version of a chemistry class demonstration."
Cope admits "this technology has been out there for a while," but he blames conspiracy, not inefficiency, for its failure to catch on: "[The oil industry] has done whatever it could to stop the progress and silence the people who know about it."
A young Fort Lauderdale fashionista foresees an eco-trendy future.
Kyra Jachode is no fool. She can see past South Florida's SUV-clogged freeways, hulking landfills, and pollution-degraded Everglades. Someday, she thinks, even the clotheshorses who gallop between Aventura Mall and South Beach will be inspecting labels not for trendy names but for trendy — and eco-friendly — fabrics.
Okay, so that future might be a long way off. Fortunately Jachode is only 21 years old. She recently won a berth in the South Florida Student Designer Competition, becoming one of six invited to show original designs to the international audience that gathered for last Wednesday's opening night of Miami Fashion Week.
Jachode chose a babydoll dress and matching vest, both made of hemp, bamboo, and silk, with wooden buttons in back sewn on with Egyptian cotton. None of those oil-based synthetic fabrics like polyester. And no materials from Indonesian sweatshops.
"When I started researching eco-friendly materials, it led me to bamboo and hemp, and that led to learning about fair trade and environmentally conscious manufacturing," the young Fort Lauderdale designer says.
This keep-it-real sensibility led her to name the ready-to-wear line Ergostalio: Organic.
There's a booming international market for clothing with eco-snob appeal, though it's yet to wash ashore in the Sunshine State.
"Florida is behind in being environmentally conscious," says Jachode. "There are a couple of boutiques which specialize in [eco-friendly attire], but they have to sell through the Internet to international customers."
After Jachode graduates next month from the Art Institute, she'll prepare a debut collection for the Scarlet Affair in Fort Lauderdale, followed by a ribbon-cutting for her own online boutique. Then it'll just be a matter of waiting. As the polar icecaps melt and the Atlantic Ocean begins swallowing the mainland, sales are bound to improve.