According to the Palm Beach Post, marijuana grow houses are becoming increasingly prevalent in Palm Beach County. This is keeping in line with state-wide increases in marijuana grow houses according to a study done by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
A marijuana “grow house” is commonly a residential property that is set up to grow marijuana indoors, or even underground. Typically, these houses are equipped with advanced lighting and plumbing systems to provide an adequate environment indoors for the plants to properly grow without the benefit of direct sunlight.
There was a time that most of these operations were dedicated houses, meaning no one actually lived in the house—it was set up merely as a grow house. But that tide is changing in Palm Beach County as more and more growers are average citizens experimenting with marijuana to make ends meet instead of the professional marijuana distributor of years past. The trend now is for people, who are often middle-aged, to dedicate a room in their home or their garage as a marijuana growing area. This new prevalence of in-home growing operations is making experts question the safety of living with the sometimes harsh chemical products used in the indoor production of marijuana. It’s also leading to a crackdown by Palm Beach County officials.
The penalties in Florida for the production of marijuana can be much more severe than the average person assumes. While possession of marijuana can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount (whether it’s over or under 20 grams), the manufacture of marijuana is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, regardless of the amount of marijuana being grown. In addition to the charge of manufacture of marijuana, a person who operates a grow house faces the possibility of two additional more serious charges. The first is marijuana trafficking. A person may be charged with marijuana trafficking if he possesses over 25 pounds of marijuana. While this may be a very large quantity once dried, Florida law does not distinguish between dried marijuana weight versus the weight of growing plants. Florida law defines cannabis as “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin.” Marijuana trafficking is a first degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Another charge a person accused of operating a grow house may face is possession of property for the purpose of trafficking in marijuana. Interestingly, this does not require a specific amount of marijuana, so a “grow house” that only has a couple of plants inside, or even no actual marijuana inside, could qualify. This law states that a person may not own or rent property with the knowledge that the place will be used for marijuana trafficking. This charge can be anywhere from a third degree felony to a first degree felony, depending on whether or not the person possesses the property (instead of just owning it and renting it out to someone else) and whether there is a minor living on the property.
Because of this law, the government is able to automatically have a person operating a grow house score a mandatory prison sentence, even if he has no prior record and even if there is only a small quantity of marijuana found on the premises. Typically, the government will rely upon evidence of marijuana manufacturing paraphernalia (lights, plumbing, ventilation systems, etc.) on the premises to prove that the home is being used as a grow house.
Such harsh penalties being instituted for growing what is an increasingly accepted drug seems absurd. Numerous states have passed laws decriminalizing possession of marijuana and others have legalized medical marijuana use. Yet, in Florida, a middle-aged man who loses his job in a bad economy and turns to growing a little bit of marijuana in his garage to help make ends meet could wind up in the Department of Corrections for a term of years. With the inflating budget in Florida, his is certainly a terrible waste of our limited resources.