At this time, the only grow houses in the state of Florida that are lawful to operate are those sanctioned by the government to grow medical marijuana. Growing marijuana for any reason without being duly licensed is a crime. Law enforcement officers will expend substantial recourses and valuable tax dollars to bring people who grow marijuana in Florida to justice.
The notion that a license is required to grow marijuana plants for personal use is an antiquated idea. In October of 2019, the state boasted the opening of a massive indoor medical marijuana grow facility in Baker County. The warehouse will eventually hold 33,000 square feet of marijuana plants, which will be cultivated, harvested, and then processed to be distributed lawfully to medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Even though state-sanctioned growing is permitted (probably because of the tax revenue generated and the employment opportunities available), the state and federal government continue to arrest marijuana growers.
Despite the state allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the state, Florida law continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. According to the definition provided in §893.03 of the Florida Statutes, a Schedule I narcotic is dangerously addictive, has no medicinal properties, and is too dangerous to consume even if the Schedule I narcotic is used with under medical supervision.
Florida law criminalizes the use of real property to manufacture or traffic in a controlled substance. Section 893.1351 of the 2019 Florida Statutes declares that owning, renting, leasing, or using any part of structures place, trailer, or other “conveyance” to manufacture, to sell, or traffic in a controlled substance commits a third-degree felony. Additionally, no person may exercise actual or constructive possession over a structure, place, trailer, or other “conveyance” while knowing that the property will be used to traffic, sell, distribute, or cultivate narcotics. The crime becomes a felony in the first degree if a child under eighteen is on the premises, or the person should have known that a child was on the premises. This section also establishes a maximum threshold for what the law will consider being a marijuana grow house. Proof that the suspect had in his or her actual or constructive possession 25 or more marijuana plants creates a presumption that the property is a grow house and that the suspect indented to sell or distribute marijuana unlawfully.
Under Florida law, a conviction for a third-degree felony could result in a maximum five-year state prison sentence. However, a conviction for a first-degree felony allows the sentencing judge to incarcerate the offender for up to 30 years.
State and federal law enforcement officers employ a variety of tactics to investigate grow houses in Florida. Agents need a lawful means of entering the premises to seize the fruits of the operation. Well-trained, highly-skilled drug investigators with a tremendous amount of experience know how to push the limits of the law to infiltrate marijuana grow houses. Some of the tactics narcotics interdiction officers in Florida use to identify marijuana growers are:
- Cultivating confidential informants who could make controlled buys or offer information about the grow house operators and the structure itself to acquire a search warrant of the premises,
- Knock and talk schemes,
- Using undercover agents to infiltrate the grow house,
- Set up surveillance,
- Arrest people who buy drugs from the premises and then interview the arrestees to develop information,
- Use of Pole Cameras, and
- Wiretap Investigations.
The list of investigative techniques agents use could be limitless. They are in a perpetual game of cat and mouse with the people who are running marijuana grow houses in Florida.
Marijuana grow house cases in Florida can be defended on two complementary fronts. Contesting the legality and constitutionality of the investigators’ actions is an indispensable defense strategy. A successful argument that the police violated the constitutional rights of the people they charged will result in the suppression of the evidence seized. If all seized evidence is suppressed, then the state’s attorney will likely have no evidence to proceed to trial and will be forced to dismiss the case.
Attacking the quality of the evidence at trial is another defense strategy. The suspect must be acquitted if the prosecution fails to prove he or she is legally connected to the marijuana grow house.
Marijuana grow house investigations are premised on correctly identifying the people involved in the operation and then developing probable cause to arrest the people involved. Obtaining a search warrant based on probable cause allows the investigators to enter the premises and search for the specified contraband. All people who were in the home at the time are likely to be arrested and charged. Although Florida law is, to the contrary, police often arrest people who are merely present when drugs are found. A conviction requires more than mere presence.
To convict a person of possessing narcotics, the prosecution must prove the element of possession beyond a reasonable doubt. Possession is actual and physical control over an item. Put another way, a person with actual possession of an item can move it about voluntarily.
Possession is also constructive. Constructive possession is the act of exercising control over an object with knowledge of the existence of the contraband even when the person cannot exert physical control.
By contrast, a person who is merely present where police seized drugs has no actual possession because none of the contraband is found on his or her person when the police search them. Also, the person has no constructive possession because he or she has no intent or ability to exercise dominion and control over the contraband.
Police rely on the legal principle that possession may be joint and need not be exclusive to arrest people who are merely present. Therefore, people who might be visiting the grow house or renting a room but who have no intention to participate in growing marijuana could still be arrested and charged with several crimes.
The same principle applies to possession of property used as a grow house. The owner of a piece of property might not know that the place is used as a grow house. For example, an absentee landlord might have no idea that the house is used for growing marijuana if he or she received a monthly rent check but had no cause to visit the house.
Protect Your Rights and Contact Musca Law
Facing charges of trafficking marijuana and operating a grow house are extremely serious criminal offenses in Florida. Call 888-484-5057 immediately if you face charges of operating a grow house in Florida. Aligning yourself with dedicated and skillful marijuana grow house defense lawyers as soon as possible helps mitigate the effect these narcotics charges have on your life.