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Counties Declare War On Pot

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Arrests And Drug House Busts Are on the Rise

The war on drugs is often so secretive that arrests are not always made public. Sometimes, the court system does not create dockets for them. Their search warrants are sealed by judges.

The stakes are that high.

"We've always had grow houses but nothing like now. Every jurisdiction in the state is getting nailed -- it's a new phenomenon," said Charlotte County Chief Deputy Bill Cameron. "It has become almost epidemic."

While the problem of grow houses -- homes turned into sophisticated indoor marijuana gardens -- and drugs is certainly statewide, the emphasis on the crime in Southwest Florida has resulted in an eye-opening number of raids and arrests in the past few months.

Based on available court documents, five grow houses and six drug houses were raided just in North Port since August. Some other raids there have not been revealed. There have been 12 grow house busts in Charlotte County this year -- compared to three last year -- two in DeSoto County and four in Hardee County.

And those numbers don't reveal the whole picture, according to Sarasota County Sheriff's spokesperson Lt. Chuck Lesaltato, who says some busts are not widely reported for fear of endangering potential informants or compromising another investigation.

"When we make arrests, we may obtain intelligence which leads to other houses, and other arrests," Lesaltato said in an interview last month. "We'd love nothing more than to publicize these, but by doing so we put lives in danger."

A grow house can have three harvests a year, and can make its owner as much as $6 million a year.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that each potted marijuana plant has street value of $4,000. A house can hold between 300 to 500 plants, producing up to $2 million per harvest.

"The ( price of the ) house is just a cost of doing underworld business," said Bob Carpenter, public information officer for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office.

"Someone can put just a little down on a home here and if they get busted, they haven't lost a lot," Cameron said.

Close to 30 percent of all arrests in Sarasota County during the month of September were directly related to drugs, according to a Sarasota County database.

Drug houses have been around for a long time. However, grow houses are new to the area, according to North Port Lt. Detective Kevin Sullivan.

Spokespersons from North Port, Sarasota, DeSoto, Hardee and Charlotte counties, say they too are keeping up with them and shutting them down.

"We realize they have them in surrounding counties and we have an eye open for them here in DeSoto," said DeSoto County Sheriff Vernon Keen. "We encourage the public, if they see anything that indicates possible a grow house, to give us a call."

Although exact numbers are unknown, information obtained from various sources in Sarasota and Charlotte counties point to about 30 grow houses having been closed since January.

Lesaltato said that the sheriff's Narcotic Task Force has closed 11 grow houses in North Port alone.

"The real estate market is driving people to rent houses, and the owners of these homes are not really checking out the renter's qualifications," Lesaltato said. "There are more vacant homes in North Port, which is why most of them might be located there."

Given the low housing prices, North Port and DeSoto and Charlotte counties are areas that are conducive to setting up grow houses because there are so many rural areas that allow operators of grow houses to go undetected for a long time, Estrada said.

Sullivan said grow houses are hard to find because the owners and renters stay low-key, and do not attract attention to themselves.

"Usually, no one is home. Someone will check the house once or twice a week to make sure all the systems inside are working," Sullivan said. "There are no 'livable conditions.'"

The house is usually torn apart, according to Carpenter. He said that often the walls, ceilings and carpeting are removed and that false walls are built to hide from police and neighbors.

"The owner or renter who lives in Miami can deny what is happening in the house, as they claim they do not live there," Carpenter said. "This makes prosecuting them difficult."

In the last five search warrants issued in North Port, no one was arrested. The owners lived in the Miami area.

"The amount ( number of grow houses ) we have found so far shows we are catching and stopping them," Sullivan said.

Cameron said Charlotte County is making grow house operators a priority.

"Our goal is to make it so operators look at us as too hot, and they will go somewhere else," Cameron said.

Source: Charlotte Sun (FL)
Copyright: 2007 Sun Coast Media Group Inc.
Contact: Letters To Editor
Website: Charlotte News


New Member
Pot was never really worth much until the US declared war on drugs. Now its worth 4grand a plant? Spreading lies like that will only make others want to grow for profit.
I am so glad our US and state tax dollars are being used for such stupid and wasteful solutions for the this war on drugs propaganda.
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