Early next week a Florida Senate committee takes up a measure that will create the framework for marijuana nurseries to grow and process medicinal pot. The measure would also broaden the state law passed last year to make medical pot available to treat more than the narrow set of illnesses approved last year.
Friday morning on WNZF’s Free For All Friday in Flagler, Ray Strack, a former U.S. Customes special agent for 27 years, five of them in charge of narcotic interdiction, and a member of the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (or Leap), spoke at length about the continuing and ill-conceived war on marijuana, one of whose victims fell in Deltona earlier this month.
On March 4, a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy killed Derek Cruice, a 26-year-old pizza delivery man and resident of Deltona, shooting him in the face, when SWAT Team members raided the home on a warrant to search for narcotics. They found 9 ounces of marijuana at the house.
“It’s the failed policies that cause these tragedies,” Strack said. “An unarmed man was killed by deputies in the service of a no-knock warrant to find marijuana. It’s just Byzantine. What’s wrong is, the use of militarized police to intercede in adult, consensual behavior.” He added: “We don’t want to blame rank-and-file law enforcement officers, we want to focus on the policies that create this problem.”
Just as Strack was speaking on the air, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release announcing the arrest of a Palm Coast man on marijuana charges, the latest man to be arrested for having a marijuana grow house, this one in the R Section.
Thursday afternoon, deputies got alerted to a possible burglary at 17 Rocking Lane in Palm Coast. The 911 caller said he (or she) saw “two suspicious males that they had never seen before,” an arrest report states, “run from the garage at 17 Rocking Ln., carrying a box.” Arriving at the scene, a deputy checked the area and saw no suspects. He met with the 911 caller, who asked police for anonymity. The caller had no more details.
The deputy saw the garage door to 17 Rocking Lane was open, with no vehicle at the residence.
“I then walked into the garage and knocked on the door leading into the residence while announcing my presence,” the deputy reported. No one answered. “I found the entry door leading into the residence to be unlocked and opened the door making more announcements of my presence and attempting to make contact with any suspects still inside the residence or possible victims. I again received no answer in response to my announcements. Due to the exigent circumstances I then entered the residence in an attempt to locate any possible suspects or to make contact with any possible victims that need immediate attention.”
While “clearing” the house, the deputy noticed from 15 to 20 marijuana plants in a walk-in closet in a bedroom toward the front of the residence. The closet had grow lights above, a fan below, and insulation all around. The plants were in separate containers and had grown from 2 to 3 feet.
Clearing the rest of the residence, the deputy noticed “more grow lights, insulation, and what appeared to be piping for duct work in a room on the right rear of the home. I also observed numerous small plants growing in rows with grow lights located directly above them in the same room.” Continuing to work, the deputy found neither suspects nor victims. He contacted other sheriff’s officials, including a supervisor and detectives, to whom the scene was turned over.
A detective was able to contact the tenant, Walter Puckett, 35. (The arrest report calls him the homeowner, though the house actually belongs to a Daytona Beach owner, and it is not homesteaded: Puckett is a renter.) Puckett declined consent for deputies to search the house, though that had already taken place—a vulnerability to the prosecution in any court case, though the deputy had acted on the presumption of probable cause that an active criminal incident was taking place, giving police in such circumstances the authority to move in. The gray line is hashed out in court.
The detective secured a search warrant, which yielded 28 plants. Puckett was arrested and charged with one count of cultivating marijuana and one count of drug paraphernalia possession. He posted bail on $11,000 bond and was released.
Every few months, the sheriff’s office makes arrests at a grow house in the county, though the last one goes back to February 2014, when 61 pot plants were seized at the house of a disabled Mondex man who was growing them for medicinal purposes. In the meantime, 58 percent of Floridians voted to legalize medical marijuana last November, but the proposed constitutional amendment—which Sheriff Jim Manfre favored—needed 60 percent to pass.
The sheriff’s office continues to make arrests for marijuana possession, with several such arrests every week. Possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, but still results in an arrest record. And the sheriff’s office continues to send its SWAT team on warrant services that involve just marijuana charges. The tactic has drawn increasing attention nationwide because of the potential violence the deployment of SWAT teams pore-supposes, and because of the disproportionate level of violence and harm that can occur (as it did in Deltona this month), in comparison with the relatively minor crime at issue.
That was in large part Strack’s point this morning. The organization he belongs to represents some 100,000 supporters including, according to its About page, “police, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens, FBI and DEA agents, and civilian supporters of drug policy reform.”
“What happens here is the attitudes and the delivery system of law enforcement is affected greatly by the administration and the policies that put those guys in those places,” said Strack, who was especially critical of the militarization of police forces, and their use of military hardware during marijuana busts.
“We need to change our attitudes on the ground,” he said. “We have to reach more people and get them to see that, look, the prohibition policies of the current war on drugs started by Nixon, cause these problems. It’s not the drugs themselves. And in the case of marijuana, it’s obvious. Look, this is a weed, it grows, it should be available to everybody. Everybody should be able to grow it in their back yard. We spent almost $1 trillion at this point on the war on drugs, over 60 percent of that is against marijuana. So you’re talking about $600 billion spent to enforce laws against marijuana use.”
Calling ignorance “the only downside,” he concluded: “We’ve had success in our society in our work against two drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and in both of those successes it was about education, it was about making those substances boring, making those substances, if you abuse them, you’re sick, you’re not cool. If you drink too much, you’re sick, you go and get help, and if you go and get help you’re not afraid of intervention by law enforcement authorities.”