Marijuana Trends in North Central Florida
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
State lawmakers are considering significantly toughening up the definition of a grow house, making it a third degree felony for 25 marijuana plants in a home, down from 300 plants. The Florida House has already passed the measure and the Senate bill, sponsored by Alachua County Senator Steve Oelrich, is in committee. The law is designed to catch up on trends apparent in North Central Florida and across the state.
Alachua County drug agents say ten years ago, all big marijuana growing operations of 100, 500, or more plants were done outdoors, with only a few indoor sites averaging about 25 plants. Now, it's almost completely reversed.
"It could be the house next door," says Det. Larry Kirkpatrick with the Gainesville Alachua County Drug Task Force. "It could be the apartment next door."
He keeps his face hidden. But his job is to expose the marijuana drug trade and clean out grow houses like the one from last week with 1.2-million dollars of pot on hand.
"There could be three of them in alachua county," says Kirkpatrick. "There may not be one in Alachua County. There could be a dozen within 50 miles of here."
Kirkpatrick says the students at U.F. will always make the area a big draw for dealers, though buyers come from all walks of life. He says because of competition, prices for the good marijuana that can be produced from indoor grow houses has remained steady at about 300 dollars an ounce.
"They control everything in the indoor grow," says Kirkpatrick. "They control how much light the plants get, how much carbon dioxide it absorbs, what type of nutrients are fed to it."
He says technology with cross- breeding and genetics has helped too. Good pot 30 years ago had a THC content of 2%. Now, it's anywhere from 8 - 12% in Gainesville.
A house with 2000 square feet is enough to comfortably fit as many as 1000 marijuana plants. And with the recent housing slump it can make it easier for growers to buy and rent property to use to make pot.
"If you have a neighbor you can barely see, but you know are living there," says Kirkpatrick. "The windows are covered up, give law enforcement a call, we might check it out."
Kirkpatrick says in his 26 years of experience, it's like a constant game of chess. And it's a game that is getting ever more popular. 25 grow houses have been busted in Alachua County already just in 2008. Marion County started keeping track less than a year ago... 13 in the last half of 2007 and 7 already in 2008. Levy and Gilchrist counties see about a half dozen each a year, and Dixie county has had zero the last three years combined.
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