Mark Printz kept a mistress at his rented one-story house amid the quiet loops and cul-de-sacs of the Welleby subdivision in Sunrise. Another lover lived a few doors down. His wife did not know about the latter, but she was well acquainted with the one who occupied more than half of the house at 9341 NW 41st Pl.
Printz had been conducting this type of live-in affair on and off for more than six years. His long-time lover's name was Skunk #1 x Northern Lights #5, a potent, high-yielding hybrid that combined Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, the two species of marijuana most commonly found in the United States. As with all of Printz's previous indoor growing operations, every plant -- from the towering "mother" in the closet to the infant and young adult "clones" in the office and bedroom -- was female, and a virgin.
The plants were lovingly cultivated using the sinsemilla technique, which involves using cuttings, or clones, from a mother plant, allowing them to grow roots, then helping them ripen into mature, unfertilized females that in their sexual frustration will generate prodigious amounts of sticky resin on their buds. The resin is intended to catch the pollen from a male marijuana plant; it also happens to contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol -- or THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient.
Inside the tree-shrouded house, Printz nurtured his unspoiled harem with an efficient, fairly high-tech hydroponic setup. Eight 40-inch trays and one 25-gallon reservoir were arrayed in each of the two bedrooms, with pumps to drip-irrigate the roots of the thriving clones. Whatever amount of nutrient-enhanced water the roots did not absorb was collected in the trays, returned to the reservoir, and recirculated. Above the trays 1000-watt high-pressure sodium lamps on moving tracks provided simulated sunlight, and perforated tubes periodically released carbon dioxide to enhance photosynthesis.
"I loved what I was doing, I loved spending an hour or two in the rooms, keeping them really clean and looking at the plants. It was a very enjoyable thing," Printz reminisces in a broad Long Island brogue. The plants, he says, reciprocated his devotion, offering up their flowers every 55 days, supplementing his income bigtime. Allowing for his own (admittedly vast) consumption and giving a lot away, an average crop grossed about $16,000 on the black market -- the only market that exists for pot, of course. An initial investment of $4000 or so in equipment purchased from local hydroponic-supply houses had been paid for many times over.
But when he speaks of this time, now some two years past, Printz doesn't dwell on the money. It's the growing itself that fills his thoughts, from the mechanics of installation -- ripping up the carpet and painting the walls and floors white so "everything looked professional, like right out of the pages of High Times magazine" -- down to the tiniest detail of the grow house -- the pH level of the water, the brand names of the nutrient fluid and cloning solution he used, the correct parts-per-million level for the CO2. And the fact that everything he gave the herb, it returned to him.
Marijuana is a faithful mistress. People, though, are fickle.
"You can see the different stages," says Lt. Juan Garcia of the Miami Police Department's Special Investigations Section, opening a three-ring binder on the desk in his cramped but tidy office and leafing through the plastic-sheathed crime-scene photos from a truly impressive hydroponic marijuana grow house.
Indeed, the color photos illustrate the entire cannabis growth cycle with textbook clarity. The infant plants reside in a solidly built homemade humidity dome under fluorescent lights. Adolescent plants have been transplanted into five-gallon paint buckets. What once were the house's bedrooms now hold tall, mature plants -- replete with their precious, resinous buds -- ensconced in long rows of PVC pipe, which circulates the nutrient-enhanced water that feeds their soilless roots. The closets are full of cut plants, hung upside down from wire racks to dry, bristling with buds that can fetch anywhere from $2000 to $5000 per pound.
"Here's a shot of the root system," continues Garcia, who has been investigating narcotics for nine of his fifteen years on the force. The young plant in the photo is growing out of a bucket that's covered with a black plastic lid and equipped with a drip-irrigation pipe slightly larger in diameter than a swizzle stick. An officer has lifted the lid, exposing the plastic basket containing rock wool, a spun-fiberglass material through which the pale roots of the plant twist like the tentacles of a Portuguese man-of-war.
Another picture, a closeup of the buds. "Here's what I was telling you about -- you can see the crystals on there," Garcia says, his voice measured and matter-of-fact yet not without a hint of admiration. "It almost looks like snow."
The next image shows an empty grow room with eight long PVC pipes with holes cut on top to give the impression of giant reed flutes extending across the floor. The lieutenant with the meticulously trimmed moustache and the immaculate office points to minute details in the photo. "Look at that ductwork," he marvels. "The room was self-contained -- the doors leading out of the house were sealed. This is one of the nicest ones I've ever seen."
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.
According to the DEA-produced Illegal Drug Price/Purity Report, the average potency of sinsemilla in 1995 was 6.66 percent THC. The average potency of so-called commercial grade marijuana, which contains leaves, stems, seeds, and male plant products, was half that. Hydroponically grown pot surely accounts for most of the high end: A June 1996 report from a division of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) places the THC level of domestically grown sinsemilla in Miami at eight to fourteen percent. One street name for hydroponic pot sums up the power factor: "The Bomb."
Law enforcement agencies and the media like to trumpet these potency percentages; local police claim the low teens as the likely level for krypto. But they cannot know for sure, because they don't routinely test marijuana for THC, and NORML's St. Pierre says he encounters pot that powerful only rarely.
Dan Viets, a Missouri defense lawyer and chairman of the board of NORML, has a theory about the emphasis on potency these days. "It's a matter of driving the public-policy debate," he argues. "I think that police are seeking to advance their prohibitionist position -- they're trying to heighten the hysteria. They're trying to heighten the concern that the public might have about marijuana."
Public concern, though, is probably based on more than police propaganda. The Drug Abuse Warning Network, a subsidiary of NIDA, reported 474 marijuana mentions in Dade County emergency rooms in the first half of 1995 -- the highest number ever, and a 21 percent increase over the previous six months. Jim Hall, executive director of the Up Front Drug Information Center in Miami, a nonprofit organization that monitors drug trends, sees some ominous indicators from recent drug-use data.
"Clearly the most recent epidemiological findings reveal that marijuana use has become increasingly problematic in the Nineties, in that it has dramatically escalated the number of hospital emergency department mentions of marijuana," he says. "There have been dramatic increases of people coming into addiction-treatment programs citing marijuana as their primary drug of dependency. We're definitely seeing marijuana emerge as a far more problematic drug. That's in part because of its increased potency, and secondly because of a younger user population."
While he agrees that drug use among teens is a problem, St. Pierre argues that higher-potency marijuana is actually more healthful. "There is no doubt that in marijuana smoke, as in tobacco smoke, there are particulate matters," he posits. "Particulate matters, in some cases, have been the precursor to cancerous lesions. Everybody acknowledges this; NORML has never engaged in the idea that marijuana smoke is harmless. So therefore, by using the principle of harm reduction, we might have a better system now. By delivering the same intoxication for two puffs as ten puffs, well, you've just engaged in harm reduction, in our minds."
Jim Hall and others contend that there's insufficient data to determine whether more-powerful pot is less harmful. But obtaining useful data about the long-term effects of marijuana use is difficult when all the long-term users are classified as criminals.
And potency, incidentally, has nothing at all to do with state and federal statutes and sentencing guidelines; it's weight and/or number of plants that are the deciding factors. Under state law a person caught growing only small amounts can often get off with probation or pretrial diversion. (Federal statutes are more severe, however, calling for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for growing 100 marijuana plants -- whether the yield is resin-rich, or unsmokable industrial hemp.)
"Potency is never a factor in the criminal arrest process," says Norman Kent, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who has defended several home growers. "I've never had a guy arrested because he grew better pot than somebody else. I agree, this is not the pot from when we were kids: This pot is purer, safer, more medicinal, less infected with fungus and bacteria. Most of the pot people got years ago was shipped over from South America and could have been mixed with the proverbial rat poison, and weed, and bacteria, and dead plant matter."
There may be room for debate about the truth and consequences of hyped-up potency, but local law enforcement officials have no doubt that indoor growing operations in Dade County have become increasingly sophisticated, both technologically and logistically.
"Some of the organizations we're concentrating on have got a lot of houses," says Metro-Dade Police Lt. Gary Wilcox. "We have constructed tables of organizations, and some of our targets are the people heading up these organizations."
Even legalization advocates acknowledge a dichotomy between the "personal" and the "commercial" indoor grower.
"I think that most people perceive that those who grew marijuana in the Sixties and Seventies could be described as your hippie-yippie-dippie, communal, peace-loving type person," says Allen St. Pierre. But that stereotype, he believes, is being replaced by a newer, sinister model: more "commercial" growers, often organized in groups -- and armed.
Fellow NORML honcho Dan Viets acknowledges that there is some violence among marijuana growers and traffickers, but he disagrees with his colleague about the prevalence of hardened growers these days. "I think that's always been part of the black-market situation," says Viets. "And it's the money, not the drug. Obviously, people don't get violent because they're smoking pot, they get violent because they're dealing in it."
Local defense lawyer Vincent Flynn, who is representing an indoor grower busted in Dade, argues that marijuana growers remain a mostly innocuous bunch whose only conscious criminal acts involve the drug itself.
"In my experience marijuana people have always been much gentler, more honest people [than cocaine traffickers]," says Flynn. "I've never seen any so-called big organizations of marijuana growers. If anything, the people who [smuggled] it in were more sophisticated. Grow houses, by definition, are self-contained. These are tight-knit groups, people who know each other from the high-school wrestling team or a fraternity."
Marijuana growers don't generally fit any particular ethnic or socioeconomic profile. Local raids during the past two years have uncovered hydroponics rigs in handsome ranch houses in southwest Dade, in duplexes in Little Havana, in bungalows in Liberty City. The vast majority of growers are male, but that's about the only way to narrow down the demographics. Lieutenant Wilcox of Metro-Dade says that what he's seen reflects the diversity of the county's population: a majority of Hispanic growers, with plenty of Anglos and blacks as well.
No hydroponic setup is illegal in and of itself. In addition to mail-order from companies that advertise in High Times (the monthly chronicle of pot culture) and various gardening publications, marijuana growers can buy everything they need from local retailers. A staffer at the Fort Lauderdale location of Gold Coast Hydroponic Greenhouse, the oldest of the store's three outlets in South Florida, says there's no special combination of lights, nutrient fluid, and cloning solution that is more appropriate for marijuana than anything else. "It all works for anything," says Dave, who declined to give his last name. "Hydroponics is not for any specific plant." He describes the policy for dealing with everyone who states or implies they are looking to purchase equipment for a marijuana grow: "They're asked to leave the store immediately. I don't know what the penalties would be [for telling someone how to grow pot], and I don't want to know. That's our bottom line, and it's a hard line. Otherwise, one of us will end up in jail, and they could close the store down."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Gold Coast's customers tend not to mention their crops at all. "In this business, 99.9 percent of the customers know what they want," Dave says. "They don't ask questions. The only real question I get is, 'How much?'"
It's just after 8:00 a.m. on December 5, and by all accounts the twelfth annual NORML Key West Criminal Defense Seminar is going much more smoothly than did its immediate precursor. The fruit-and-bagel buffet is ready; the registration table, while still folded up near the conference room door, is at least accounted for; two NORML volunteers are seated on the floor at the entrance busily sliding attendees' name tags into plastic holders; and the T-shirts arrived via FedEx last night.
"The T-shirts got lost in the mail last year," says St. Pierre, an earnest, bespectacled 31-year-old whose short black hair is shot with gray on the sides. NORML's deputy director then returns to his task of shepherding the process along, scurrying back and forth between the soon-to-be-erected registration area and the Grand Cayman meeting room of the casually elegant Pier House resort.
All the while conventioneers are arriving in spurts and trickles. Like their grower counterparts, most of these high-powered defense lawyers are men. All of them are white, and the greater number of them are dressed for Key West -- T-shirts and shorts are the norm. A handful are dressed for court, with polished shoes, tailored suits, and carefully groomed hair. These nattily attired folks, it turns out, are the day's scheduled speakers.
It could almost be any gathering of prominent lawyers. Exchanges of hugs and handshakes are punctuated with "Good morning, counselor"s and "Third year I've been here"s. Among today's arrivals are such notables as Hunter S. Thompson's personal attorney, the Libertarian Party's 1992 vice presidential candidate, and the coauthor of Proposition 215, California's recently passed medical-marijuana law.
Still, though the ultimate tip-off, the scent of recently ignited cannabis, waits until exactly 11:40 a.m. to make its presence known in the hall, there are plenty of overt clues that this assemblage of attorneys has a particular affinity for defending those who have run afoul of marijuana statutes. The smattering of ponytails and full beards is one hint; the occasional shirt or hat woven of hemp fiber is another. Several T-shirts offer rallying cries for the pot-legalization politics of NORML. (The best of the bunch reads: "D.A.R.E. -- I turned in my parents and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.")
Boston attorney Michael Cutler enters clothed in full pot-lawyer regalia: baggy shorts, a NORML baseball cap, a button-down hemp shirt open over a T-shirt bearing the image of a snake coiled around a marijuana leaf under the slogan "Don't Tread on Me." As his colleagues greet him warmly, the six-foot-plus defense lawyer makes a solemn declaration: "Let me tell you, freedom is wonderful," he says, smiling. "I have seen the Promised Land." Cutler has just returned from the ninth annual Cannabis Cup, the famous (or infamous) Amsterdam conference and competition for marijuana growers sponsored by High Times magazine.
If the Netherlands is the Promised Land, then the United States is the Land of the Pharaoh. The 91 attorneys who registered for this seminar know full well that the courtroom tactics they'll be discussing in the next three days will seldom set their clients free. The art of defending a marijuana grower is the art of mitigating the inevitable penalties, especially if the defendant in question was growing in his home.
"In most indoor-grow cases, it's not a situation where you can say, 'No, my client wasn't growing,'" says William Panzer, an Oakland attorney who co-wrote the aforementioned Proposition 215. "It's usually their house, it's pot, it's obvious. They can't say, 'Gee, I didn't know my basement was full of plants.' So generally there's not much you can do to defend on the facts of the case."
When lawyers can't dispute the facts of the case, what's left to talk about? Challenging the search warrant in the hope of suppressing the evidence; establishing that the grow was for personal use and perhaps getting the defendant into a pretrial diversion program; and maneuvering, begging, and pleading to minimize prison time. (Of course, spending this kind of time on an unwinnable case is not something lawyers like to do for nothing. For the vast majority of marijuana growers represented by public defenders, a guilty plea is entered.)
Finding fault with police procedure is a basic defense strategy -- and one that allows marijuana activists to steer the debate into the waters of constitutionality. For example, while the power consumption of a house running rows of 1000-watt grow lights can exceed three or four times that of neighboring houses, this evidence doesn't necessarily indicate that marijuana is being grown. "When you look at the probable-cause affidavits that the state and federal agencies utilize to search people's homes, you see that what they're alleging could be a grow house for marijuana," says Fort Lauderdale attorney Norman Kent, who is himself a former member of NORML's board of directors. "It could also be, with the same indicators, a grow house for tulips -- higher electric bills; sealed, contained, colored and tinted windows; lots of air conditioners."
Similarly, St. Pierre recalls a New England case in which police used thermal imaging and power-company records to get a warrant to search a suspected grow house. It turned out the resident was a lobster fisherman who sometimes needed to store live lobsters in a huge tank in his basement. "The idea of the government trying to look through the electric bills of the citizens of any municipality to discern who is using legal products but growing illegal products under them is such a stretch from a constitutional standpoint," he asserts.
Miami Police Lt. Juan Garcia says that meter readers for Florida Power & Light often save police the trouble. "FPL will pick up the phone and call and go, 'Listen, this particular house here seems a little strange to us,'" he reports.
FPL spokeswoman Lynn Shatas says that generally the power company approaches police only if FPL personnel stumble upon something overtly odd in the course of reading a meter or investigating a house suspected of illegally bypassing its meter (which some growers do). "Florida Power & Light would not initiate something like this," Shatas says. "Usually the FBI or the DEA, through whatever suspicions or informants they have, would subpoena the records. We would run the records, and then they would look for any abnormal consumption."
Garcia emphasizes that such assistance is essential in locating major indoor hydroponics grows, because even though he has seen the operations get bigger, they're by no means big enough for law enforcement to infiltrate them. "These things are very difficult to investigate," he says. "Usually it's a close-knit group of people that are doing this. Often the police department discovers illegal drug activities by using undercover officers, but in these types of situations it's hard to get an undercover officer to join the groups involved in hydroponics."
If the police didn't exceed their authority during the arrest and all the evidence is admissible, all an attorney can hope to do is persuade the judge to impose the lightest allowable sentence. Under Florida law growers face felony manufacturing charges when caught with any number of plants. Anything over 50 pounds is considered a trafficking weight, increasing the potential penalty. But state statutes call for a mandatory minimum prison sentence (at least fifteen years) only for 10,000 pounds of pot or more. For all other amounts, judges are referred to the state sentencing guidelines, which offer a great deal of latitude. The age and prior record of the defendant, as well as the presence or absence of a weapon in the case, are among the variables. Sentences can range from probation or pretrial diversion to hard time in a state penitentiary -- it's up to the judge.
Federal judges, however, have little discretion in sentencing. Though any marijuana-growing case can be prosecuted federally, the mandatory-minimum sentences don't kick in unless at least 100 plants or 100 kilos are involved -- but these sentences are inherent in the statute. A federal conviction for 100 plants or kilos means 5 to 40 years' imprisonment. (Even though the sentencing guidelines were changed in November 1995 to more realistically equate one plant with 100 grams as opposed to one kilo, the five-year minimum for 100 plants still stands). One thousand plants? Depending on the circumstances, anywhere from ten years to life. Given these serious and inflexible penalties, state and local law enforcement agencies seem to prefer turning over drug offenders to the stern hand of the federal courts.
"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.)
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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.
"But what bothers me is that I'm a nonviolent person, and they put nonviolent people in prison for a minimum of five years," he complains. "You have some nonviolent people who are growing some marijuana to sell to friends of theirs, who consume a lot of marijuana, and so now we don't have to drive through a dangerous neighborhood at night looking to score a dime bag. You can go see your friend, who's probably a business person and maybe a college graduate, who will sell you an ounce, or a pound.
"I used to sell business people pounds for $5000," he recalls. "So you do a $5000 deal, and there's never any guns involved. So yeah, somebody's growing 100, 200 plants in a big operation, but it's not what they call a 'criminal organization.' The only thing criminal about it is that the government keeps making it illegal.