Based on data from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida has a larger number of marijuana grow houses than any other state in the nation. Over the last several years, grow houses have been found in nearly all Florida counties. Specifically, law enforcement has seized several million marijuana plants worth several billion dollars, and over 10,000 individuals have been placed under arrest for charges related to growing these plants.
Although the growing of marijuana constitutes a felony in the third degree, operating grow houses for selling the drug constitutes drug trafficking, which is a crime that can lead to a maximum thirty-year jail term, monetary fines, and probation. The degree of punishment will vary based on the scale of the growing operation.
The Florida drug defense attorneys at Musca Law are fully aware of the nature of the allegations, and how severe they may be. Our lawyers also know that a variety of defenses will apply in these types of cases, which include the following:
- Fourth Amendment violations for the improper searches and seizures of evidence (i.e., illegal and/or warrantless searches and seizures);
- Method of coercion involving “knock-and-talk.”
- Failure of law enforcement to acquire consent prior to searching a person’s home, residence, and/or belongings;
- A lack of probable cause to obtain a warrant;
- Overbroad protective sweep;
- Violations of Miranda law;
- Violations of a person’s right to counsel;
- Controlled substances that are not immediately visible; and
- Exceeding the scope of a search that was consensual
Each of the above defenses are available pursuant to safeguards against improper searches and seizures of evidence, which are provided for in the Fourth Amendment. These are the most successful defenses in having the charges dismissed or the evidence suppressed in a marijuana cultivation case involving a grow house located in Florida. Notwithstanding, a variety of other defenses exist that may apply, but each will depend upon the individual facts and circumstances of one’s case.
Legislation Pertaining to Marijuana Grow Houses
Prosecutors in Florida rely heavily on the 2008 Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act (the ”Act”), which was enacted due to a rapidly growing number of grow houses that have cropped up throughout the Sunshine State.
Based on the law, growing 25 plants or more is a felony in the second-degree. The law formerly stated that growing 300 or more plants was a second-degree felony. A felony in the second degree is associated with a maximum fifteen-year prison term, harsh monetary fines, and probation, which may include random drug testing and substance abuse treatment.
It is also a felony in the third degree (associated with a five-year prison term, monetary fines, and probation) to rent, own, or lease a house for the purpose of packaging, growing, or distributing marijuana. It is also a felony in the first degree (associated with a potential 30-year prison term, monetary fines, and probation) if a person grows more than 25 plants in a house where minors (children under the age of eighteen) are present.
Under Florida Statutes Section 893.1351, this law applies to residents, landlords, visitors (in cases where they are shown to control the operation of a grow house), and renters. This statutory section also provides that law enforcement officers may use video or photo evidence of the equipment (rather than retaining the equipment) in the prosecution of a grow house case. Officers may also destroy the equipment associated with the investigation of the case, and have immunity protecting them from civil penalties due to destroying equipment seized at grow houses.
Prior to when the Act was passed, the prosecution zealously pursued lengthy prison terms when individuals were caught with crops of dozens of marijuana plants. This ceased to be an issue following the passage of the Act.
Additionally, people caught trafficking marijuana will face charges for a felony in the first degree, which carries with it a minimum prison term of three years and a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison. Trafficking charges are the most serious charges under Florida law. For these charges to apply, a minimum of 300 plants must be seized.
A person may assert that he or she grew marijuana that was not intended for sale or distribution. For a defendant to establish this, he or she needs to demonstrate that the marijuana was intended to be used for medicinal purposes or for personal consumption. While growing marijuana is illegal in Florida, it is deemed a lesser offense to grow it for an individual’s personal use (as opposed to growing it for sale or distribution).
The Detection of Marijuana Grow Houses in Florida
Law enforcement is usually able to detect the presence of a grow house due to its heavy use of electricity. Specifically, police are cognizant of grow houses’ need twice as much, if not three times the amount of electricity as the average residential property. There are growers who are able to avoid being detected by law enforcement through illegally obtaining electricity from additional sources. Still, given the fact that residential electrical grids are typically not designed to accommodate the significant amount of electricity required for grow houses, fires can happen and lead to an arrest after an investigation is conducted into the source of the fire.
An additional indication related to the presence of a grow house is the odor produced by the marijuana plants, which can be rather strong. It is important to note that the presence of a smell is not sufficient to obtain a warrant, per Florida case law. Also, according to a 2001 case issued by the United States Supreme Court, police are not permitted to enlist the use of thermal imaging in order to detect a grow house.
Musca Law Stands Ready to Defend Your Legal Rights
If you or a loved one is facing a drug-related charge, act quickly to seek the advice of a seasoned Florida criminal defense lawyer. Your constitutional rights are on the line, and you need the best defense possible from the start. Musca Law is a large criminal defense firm that has extensive experience handling serious criminal charges. To speak with a Florida criminal defense attorney about your criminal matter, contact Musca Law today by calling (888) 484-5057 24/7. We look forward to helping you in any way we can.