"That's the attitude plenty of young start-up pot growers and dealers have," Sgt. Castro believes. "They begin as smokers who want pot for themselves and end up with enough to sell, [and] it goes on from there. And whenever we bust these people they always try to explain that their stash is for personal use, as if that makes having a few pounds of marijuana okay," Castro says with a befuddled shrug.
You'd think dealers with such an avid affection for reefer would be idealistic on the issues surrounding decriminalization. But this isn't flower-power time. Idealism has been replaced with pragmatism and an all-about-the-Benjamins outlook. As far as revolutions go, Razz says he's "read about those in history class." Dealing is a business and smoking is a pastime for him, not a counterculture component. Besides, today's burnout doesn't always fit a particular anti-authoritarian bill: Many wear Dockers, go to church, and vote Republican, or at least intend to (like Kiki). Involving themselves politically in defense of getting high doesn't go beyond righteous chitchat while passing a joint around. Kiki believes toking "is not as harmful as the government's anti-pot hoopla says it is, but not as easy on my mind and body as I'd like it to be." Razz couldn't care less about the political state of pot smoking. Legalization would hurt his revenue anyway. Dealers don't typically apply for membership with NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. And in regard to dope's effect on his health, Razz replies, "If I thought about how bad Big Macs are for me, I'd become a vegetarian." That reminds him -- he's got the munchies and a trip to McDonald's is in order.
Sgt. Castro admits the police's focus on stamping out harder drugs and the easy time courts often give convicted pot dealers with no criminal history has a lot to do with the amount of growing going on. He says the first-time-convicted pot dealer will not see any significant jail time. "There is a notion [current] that marijuana activity is not as bad as Ecstasy and cocaine," Castro acknowledges. DEA Public Information Officer Joseph Kilmer concurs, "The priority of law-enforcement agencies now is in fighting the trafficking of cocaine, Ecstasy, and heroin, because of the significantly higher damage these drugs do. Then comes marijuana." And they don't profile pot dealers either: Kilmer says, "There is no type of pot dealer, it can be anyone."
Don't think the DEA isn't busting pot kickers, though. For a crime that's admittedly low on the hit list, it still gets after domestic pot growing. In 2001 the DEA seized over 30 metric tons of marijuana in Florida alone. Its Domestic Eradication Program sniffed out 551 grow sites, destroyed over 28,000 plants with an estimated value of $28.2 million. It booked 325 cultivators.
How much is actually consumed and produced in the U.S. is unknown because agents speculate that seized crops and arrested dealers make up a small portion of domestic production. But new growers pick up where the busted ones leave off. The Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study last year speculating that in 2000, Americans spent an estimated $10.4 billion to consume 1009 metric tons of marijuana. Dealers and cops on the street say that's a low-ball assumption.
New studies are saying that these dealers should have a harder time getting rid of pot. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released a study last month estimating only 25 percent of 1000 teens polled admit to smoking marijuana. The same study says teens find pot easier to purchase than cigarettes. The study was conducted as a survey of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds, a grouping that is misleading, considering most published reports on pot use divide younger adolescents from older ones more prone to smoking. Research by NIDA also points to a decline in pot use overall this year, but it's only down one percentage point from 49.2 percent of high school seniors who had used marijuana in 2000.
"No one is doing less of anything," Sgt. Castro scoffs. "You'd be surprised how many people are growing throughout different neighborhoods in Miami-Dade. The police aren't going to get to most of them." In fact Castro says there is no strategy that can be applied to weeding (pun intended) out pot growing or dealing, like there is for other drugs. "The wealth of our resources goes into fighting cocaine and Ecstasy trafficking primarily," he explains. Besides, it's hard to infiltrate the new pot rings. He notes their fraternal and social structure as obstacles for police intelligence, where independent distributors and their buddies take the place of the organized criminals who run most other rackets with a high per-capita markup. As Castro mentioned, cops depend on tips from neighbors (not FPL, as many believe) and occasional police helicopter sweeps of suspected areas using infrared sensors called Fleers, which detect heat from growers' lamps, to find pot houses. Even that is not enough to obtain a search warrant, though. Their best aid comes from the complacency of the growers themselves. "One guy we had an eye on came out of his house smoking a joint and had marijuana on the front seat of his car, giving us enough reason to go into his house; half of it was partitioned off for growing," Castro explains.