Florida's penalties for marijuana possession, use, and distribution haven’t stopped dealers from trying to get marijuana into the state and the Central Florida area, as smugglers have used taxis, RVs, vans and planes to move pot into Orlando. Other dealers bypass smuggling concerns by attempting to grow pot locally, resulting in hundreds of additional marijuana-related arrests in Central Florida.
Orlando's tourism industry have long served as cover for pot smugglers. Posing as tourists, smugglers in 2013 used RVs for cover as part of a pot trafficking organization that resulted in a 3,000-pound marijuana bust for police - one of the biggest in Orlando's history. In another case, police found 1,000 pounds of the drug in a van near SeaWorld.
The tourist essentials of hotels and taxis were used to hide one recent cross-country drug-smuggling ring's smuggling. In “Operation Hotel California,” police arrested more than 25 people in Central Florida and California when they busted an operation that used overnight shipping to send marijuana to hotels on Orlando’s International Drive, where employees used taxis to take the shipments to local safe houses.
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Not all of Orlando's illegal marijuana supply stems from smuggling. Local police have learned that marijuana is grown here too, as cops have busted more than 700 marijuana "grow houses" in Central Florida this decade, seizing more than 30,000 plants, the Orlando Sentinel reports. In one such case, neighbors were curious when a house sold quickly, but the new residents were rarely seen. Instead, the new residents put up a tall fence and illegally tapped into an extra power line to supply the substantial energy needed for indoor UV lights, air conditioning and other grow house essentials.
Police in Orlando have many ways to crack down on marijuana sellers and users, including surveillance cameras. Police arrested one pot smoker after the city’s “Innovative Response to Improve Safety” camera system saw him smoking a joint on a corner known for drug activity.
Marijuana’s high comes from the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as "THC". While smoking marijuana is the fastest way to get THC into a user's system, the drug can also be eaten or drank. THC works by triggering the release of dopamine in the brain, causing a user to experience a euphoric sensation.
Smoking pot first became popular in the United States in the 1920s when Prohibition banned alcohol consumption, but a campaign by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned weed’s sale, possession and use.
Possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony in Florida. As such, those with an ounce or more of marijuana for personal use could find themselves facing a felony charge after a simple traffic stop, for example. A felony charge for marijuana possession can result in a 5- to 15- year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines, while a simple misdemeanor charge of less than 20 grams can bring a one-year jail sentence and $1,000 fine.
The penalties are more severe for selling pot. A sale of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Anything more than 20 grams is felony, ranging from 5 to 30 years in prison, with penalties up to $200,000 in fines. Selling more than 25 pounds comes with an automatic three-year sentence and selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school can land a felony charge punishable by up to 15 years, regardless of the amount.
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