Sheriff’s deputies carted out marijuana plants by the hundreds until the front yard in an affluent neighborhood looks like a miniature jungle, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Law enforcement officials say rural and suburban communities in west-central Florida are becoming an epicenter of the state’s marijuana production. “It’s up. It’s huge,” said Capt. Michael Platt of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s the latest surge in this industry. Dade County is actually overrun with it. Now we are too.” A total of 511 grow houses were discovered in 41 of the state’s 67 counties last year, ranking Florida second only to California.
Deputies often dismantle operations hidden in plain sight among quintessential suburban homes and arrest drug dealers who live next door to retirees on fixed incomes and families with young children. Authorities attribute the spike in grow houses in the St. Petersburg area to tougher enforcement in South Florida’s urban areas, including Miami, long-considered the illegal drug capital of the state. In many cases, the marijuana from the area’s major grow houses is shipped to Miami, often through Cuban drug syndicates. Marijuana from indoor grow operations contains up to 15 times the amount of the psychoactive chemical THC than marijuana common 20 years ago, says the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. A pound might bring between $2,000 and $6,000 on the street. Sheriff’s deputies allowed the St. Petersburg Times to look inside an elaborate enterprise they busted last week, which is described in detail. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is urging the raising of penalties against those who grow 25 plants or more.