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Marijuana Growers Could Face Stiffer Penalties

Herb Fellow

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Lehigh Acres residents can be excused for wondering if there's some kind of natural mystic in the air. The sprawling, unincorporated home to some 70,000 residents due east of the Interstate in Lee County has recently been the site of a string of marijuana growhouse busts. But it's not alone: authorities say they're seeing houses converted into pot gardens from Golden Gate Estates to Cape Coral. In the first two months of this year, Lee and Collier deputies busted about a half-dozen operations each.

One legislator wants to add a bit more meat to the criminal charges growhouse operators face. Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers, hopes to usher through Tallahassee this spring a bill that would make it felony to own a home that you know is used to grow marijuana or manufacture other illegal drugs. It's already a crime to rent a place for trafficking or selling drugs.

Having 100 or more marijuana plants is also already a crime that comes with harsher sentences at the federal level. Thompson says authorities are increasingly finding crops with just under 100 plants, so the operators can duck that charge. His bill would make just 25 proof of the intention to sell or deal the drug. Also, letting young children near drugs or manufacturing would be a separate crime under House Bill 173.

Not surprisingly, Thompson's proposals appear to have the support from area law enforcement. "Anything to enhance or increase the penalties for it," said Lt. Nelson Shadrick, of the Vice and Narcotics Bureau at the Collier County Sheriff's Office. "I don't think it's going to stop it, but it'll at least give us a little more bite."

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott has also come out in favor of the bill. He particularly approves of lowering the plant limit. "Our criminal justice system is not convincing people that crime does not pay. Crime does pay" given the lucrative drug market and the sentences criminals are likely to face, he said. "Nobody's scared of the system."

But local criminal defense attorney Joseph Viacava questioned whether more laws are needed to combat the problem. The authorities can already charge someone who knowingly rents a growhouse, he pointed out. They can already charge suspects with child neglect or something similar if kids are found near the drugs. Thompson's bill would only specify those crimes, he said – and prosecutors would still have to find a way of proving the homeowner really knew the place was a pot garden. "Just ensnare more people," Viacava said, when asked what he thought was the purpose of the bill. "I think enforcement is quite enough. Just enforce the laws that are already on the books."

Fort Myers-based attorney John Mills said he thinks the bill is an answer to illegal activity that has, with the downturn in the real estate market and the ready availability of cheap homes, invaded even upscale, traditionally crime-free residential neighborhoods. Enforcement of drug laws is an ever-present challenge for cops, Mills said. "I think the Legislature is trying to up the ante" in the courtrooms, he said.

Thompson said the bill is moving along at a steady clip and he's optimistic it'll gain the support it needs to pass.

Source: The Naples Daily News
Copyright: 2008, The Naples Daily News
Contact: Kathleen Cullinan
Website: Marijuana growers could face stiffer penalties : South Lee : Naples Daily News

Herb Fellow

New Member
“Anything to enhance or increase the penalties for it,” said Lt. Nelson Shadrick, of the Vice and Narcotics Bureau at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. “I don’t think it’s going to stop it, but it’ll at least give us a little more bite.” Enhance penalties? Lt., why not be honest about the issue? You know growers aren't going to stop and those that do will be replaced by new ones. We already have more people in jail than any other nation, so giving "a little more bite" just ensures the prison industry future growth. As more states/communities are lessening penalties for cannabis, Florida is working hard to see that snow birds have less access for MMJ. Floridians, it is time to start writing and calling your legislatures. Lt., you know it is all about the money.
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