Florida’s New Marijuana Boom: House-Grown and Super-Potent

Marijuana plants grow under hot lights and an irrigation system in the kitchen of a private residence. (Photo by Carisa McCain)Marijuana plants grow under hot lights and an irrigation system in the kitchen of a private residence. (Photo by Carisa McCain)California may be the center of the marijuana trade and the controversies over its legalization. But Florida has surpassed it in one important category: the Sunshine State is now the country’s leader in indoor marijuana cultivation.

It is a potent distinction because most of the marijuana grown this way is cultured hydroponically — that is, mostly without soil and with a carefully calibrated cocktail of chemicals and lighting — to create some of the highest level of highs on the market.

In 2006, Florida law enforcement here discovered 480 homes growing marijuana indoors. Last year, 1,022 grow houses were busted. “This isn’t your grandma’s marijuana,” quipped a Miami-Dade narcotics officer at one bust as he tossed garbage bags stuffed with confiscated marijuana into an unmarked police truck. Levels of THC — the agent in marijuana that produces feelings of euphoria, and in some users mild hallucinations and paranoia — have risen dramatically because of indoor techniques. Thirty years ago, most marijuana contained about 7% THC. Today, indoor growers boast THC levels of 25% or higher thanks to the additional care that indoor plants receive. (See pictures of 4/20, the unofficial pot holiday.)

Indoors, high-powered lights that stimulate growth can remain on all day, their nourishing rays reflected off the metallic-coated paper covering walls. The chemical fertilizers used are just as powerful and nourishing, spawning fast-growing plants that produce more THC than those raised outdoors. (See pictures of America’s cannabis culture.)

TIME accompanied undercover agents on a recent bust on a quiet street of a working-class Miami suburb. As soon as the agents enter the front door, they know they’ve acted on a good tip. The pungent smell of plant life fills the air. The ceiling of the master bedroom is a constellation of high-powered lightbulbs emitting a nourishing glow onto what officers estimate is more than 100 lb. of particularly potent marijuana plants with a street value upwards of $800,000. (See pictures of stoner cinema.)

While most of the marijuana is freshly cut and drying on a clothesline stretched across the room, pots of smaller plants still months away from maturing line the walls. An irrigation system supplies water and chemical fertilizers to the plants via a hose that runs into the adjacent bathroom, where the toxic brew used to accelerate plants’ growth is dumped down a drain.

On the Florida market, a pound of indoor grown marijuana goes for upwards of $4,000. But in the Northeast, the best market for Florida growers, the same marijuana goes for about $8,000 a pound. Unlike their closest regional rivals, Florida growers can produce up to four crops annually.

“These operations are mushrooming all over the state of Florida,” says State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for Miami-Dade County, the de facto capital of the state’s indoor pot industry. Taking these operations down is dangerous work. Some growers stockpile automatic weapons to protect themselves — and to fend off thieves who are after the valuable crop. (Watch TIME’s video “Medical Marijuana Home Delivery.”)

Miami Police Major Charles Nanney says informants played a crucial role in the success of a statewide crackdown in June that resulted in the seizure of 6,828 marijuana plants and 120 residential marijuana labs over the course of a few days. Among the best tipsters, they say, are electricians paid big money by growers to wire the sophisticated network of lights and air conditioners used to cool plants and subject them to round-the-clock illumination. The energy-chugging networks require an expert’s touch to bypass the electric meter and tap straight into the grid. A sharp increase in electricity used to be a telltale sign of a grow house. Some growers have caught on, however, and are learning to mask their energy profile.

Money-laundering is an attendant crime. But so is trafficking in undocumented migrant workers. A single marijuana growing operation can consist of a dozen homes or more, requiring many hands to tend to the plants. And when arrests are made, those taken in are often neither the homeowner nor the person named on the lease. The actual operators usually elude capture. Still, workers are lured by the promise of a piece of the profits and rent-free living, sometimes raising children among the deadly high-voltage lights and other potential life-threatening apparatuses associated with indoor marijuana. (Read “Is Marijuana the Answer to California’s Budget Woes?“)

The state’s real estate catastrophe contributes to the problem as well. Captain Joe Mendez from the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), says operators flush with cash are attracted to the abundance of cheap homes in Florida, particularly in Miami-Dade, which leads the state in foreclosures. While Florida’s legitimate economy continues to flail, the HIDTA captain says indoor marijuana is thriving even though law enforcement is arresting more people every year. Says Mendez: “If the economic downturn remains as it is, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

– Article from TIME Magazine.

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15 Comments

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  3. Anonymous on

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  4. Anonymous on

    Yeah, try growing commercial in FL… No Medi-Marijuana in the near future! The sentencing laws are medieval at best! Florida is not Canada where one is released while waiting for a court date!

  5. Anonymous on

    HORRIBLE ARTICLE!

    Today’s Marijuana strains are the results from the genetics of the plants from thirty years ago. Landrace varities will always be superior to these “hybrids” that exist today because they all have very unique flavors and highs that make them oh so delicious…I’ll take some Vietnamese Dalat any day of the week and I promise you that even thirty years ago the Dalat had some high THC numbers no doubt.

    Just like others have stated…all those fantastic strains from the 60’s and 70’s were some head warping goodness.

    Im only 29 so have only had the chance to smoke some pure genetics twice Dalat and Mazar

    Lets not forget about the efforts from the growers in the 70’s to bring us the great Sativas Original Haze, Kona Gold, Polly, Big Sur Holy Weed. After 1975 is when the oh so fantastic Indicas came into play and when some Hindu Kush and Afghani came into the picture, breeding as it was known was changed forever…the only thing that has happened over the last thirty years is people figured out that the genetics of the plant you are growing makes all the difference in the world

    OVERGROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Anonymous on

    I learned something new today, Ive been so stuborn everythime my dad would tell me how the pot he smoked way back when was better than my stash of chronic he found. He wasn’t lying.lol, I wish I woulda been there back in the day.

  7. Anonymous on

    your absolutely right. My mom was one of the first of the hippy generation when smoking cannabis became very popular and we had a discussion one day and she told me that during her time that they mainly smoked the imported hash that was abundant but when they did smoke cannabis they smoked the leaves of the plant not the buds. They call the nutes toxic but its the same nutes that are used to grow our indoor tomatoes, peppers, and all the other fruits and vegetables that are grown indoors during winter months, and I don’t see them bitching at those legal companies.

  8. Anonymous on

    Most indoor pot is Indica with possible cross with Sativa.

    THE SATIVA’S IN THE 1960’S WAS WAY MORE POWERFUL THAN “SLEEPY INDICA”.

    COLUMBIAN IS SATIVA AS WAS PANAMA RED, THAI STICK AND ALL THE MEXICAN WAS SATIVA CANNABIS. THE AFGHAN INDICA NEVER COMPARED TO THE SATIVAS OF THE AMERICAS.

    THEY DON’T EVEN GROW SATIVA INDOORS AS THE HARVEST AMOUNT IS WAY LESS THAN INDICA UNDER LIGHTS.

    MOST CLUB BUYERS ARE IDIOTS!

  9. Anonymous on

    One doesnt; need to use chemicals for DRO’. There are organic fertz avaialable now, ADVANCED NUTRIENTS makes an organic line.

    WHAT A BUNCH OF LIES and BULLSHIT. OUTDOOR weed is the best. I will make sure that too much pot growing in the good ole USA is a major problem, I WILL NEVER EVER STOP GROWING POT, assholes. I will sew seeds everywhere along the highways of AMerica. FUCK EVERY PROHIBTIONIST that has to lie to try to prohibit us from cannabis. That just makes alcohol and others drugs more enticing, being without weed make a pot head look for some other shit, this is the origanal GATEWAY theory. NO WEED= drinking/cocaine.

  10. Tony Aroma on

    I love it the way they refer to them as “marijuana labs.” Trying to make them seem comparable to meth labs?

  11. Someone's Grandpa on

    The war on cannabis is lost and futile, and it is finally starting to sink in to the thick heads of even the prohibitionists, which is demonstrated when they say things like today’s marijuana isn’t your grandma’s marijuana. That slogan used to go something like today’s marijuana isn’t your parents’ marijuana. How many more generations of brain-dead law enforcement and holier than thou prohibitionist years and slogans will we have to allow them to fool themselves before they get the hell out of the way and let us legalize it? I can just hear it 10 years from now: This isn’t your great granddad’s marijuana, then this isn’t your great great grandfather’s marijuana, then this isn’t your great great grandmother’s marijuana, and all the while cannabis consumers are living their lives along taoist lines of acting like water flowing around rocks in their way.

  12. Anonymous on

    After reading this article I remembered why I have never liked Time Magazine.
    Im sorry it you wasted time out of your life reading this as I did.

  13. Anonymous on

    Forty years ago we used to get Panama Red….Alcopulco gold……Columbian Red….Columbian Gold…..Afghanie black hash….Nepalese Temple Balls….Thai STICK……Michmocan!

    NOTHING THEY GROW TODAY EVEN COMPARES TO THAT SHIT!

    HYDRO HEADACHE
    BEAUITIFUL CALIF NO-HIGH
    MEXICAN DUST WEED

    THATS WHAT CLUBS SELL…..WHY….CONNECTIONS ARE LOUSY.

    TODAY”S SMOKER NEVER HAS HAD ANYTHIG GOOD.

    HIGH THC NUMBERS DON”T DESIGNATE “GREAT POT”……because its just accumulation in you system that keeps you high longer or you smoke less.

    THESE NEWBIES HAVE NEVER HAD THE POT FROM THE SIXTIES…..THEREFORE THEY ARE MAKING ASSUMPTIONS THAT ARE STUPID!

  14. Adimus on

    Ok first they say theyre catching these people through tips made by the electricians they hired to wire their lights etc and then they say the grow lights are deadly? You just explained how they have a professional come in to wire everything up for them. How is that any more deadly then lights in any normal persons home? I mean ya they’re hotter so you could burn yourself or something (though usually they are mounted to the ceiling and most kids cant reach that high heh) but that doesn’t stop us from giving our kids an easy bake oven. I don’t know about everyone else but I’ve never been electrocuted by any lights in my apartment (or any other electrical equipment for that matter) so why does it even matter if they’re high voltage or not? Yes there may be an increased hazard but that doesnt mean there is increased risk. People try DIY electrical jobs all the time which I’m sure results in far more injuries then any done for grow lighting purposes. Don’t be so sensationalist TIME magazine.

    As for Florida’s economy, you just found the solution to ur problem and you don’t even realize it. So ur legitimate economy sucks but pot business is good? Well here’s a thought, legalize the good business and then your legitimate economy will improve. There’s your light. When the tunnel ends is partly up to you.

  15. Anonymous on

    ” Thirty years ago, most marijuana contained about 7% THC. Today, indoor growers boast THC levels of 25% or higher thanks to the additional care that indoor plants receive.”

    What the gigantic fuck is wrong with you Carmine? 30 years ago we didn’t know better than to smoke sticks & leaves. Pot’s no fucking stronger now than it ever was. We’ve simply learned to produce “healthier” plants and we know exactly which parts contain the THC, CBD’s, and the other favorable elements. Here’s another flash for you, you fucking dolt. Pot grown outdoors is always superior, all things being equal. All the artificial lighting in the world can’t begin to compare to real sunlight. Indoor growing is done for one reason and one reason only. It’s because growing outdoors is too risky! An indoor plant generates an ounce of BUD. Outdoor’s can be over a pound. Indoors growers use a “TOXIC BREW” you say? What do you think they are growing in, fucking rocket fuel? The nutes used are almost always organic in nature and would do no more than make your grass greener or your roses lovlier should you dump the waste on your lawn. What I hate most about weed is that so often people have to deal with scumbags to get some. I have no use for anyone who would involve weapons to defend their commercial grow-op. I’m an advocate for “growing your own”. Small closet and basement growers that supply themselves are where it’s at in this day and age. Anyone can do it and it won’t raise a single eyebrow if you keep it small and keep your mouth shut which is what you should do Carmine until you educate yourself and stop writing bullshit!