Marijuana grow houses a growing problem

Maria Papadopoulos

The illegal plants are hidden from society, inside the suburban homes of marijuana growers.

There, growers farm the plants using fluorescent lights, irrigation systems and humidifiers to provide an optimal growing climate.

They grow marijuana from seedling to baggie, typically in a suburban dwelling with little furniture, food or other evidence of normal occupancy.

And in many cases, they spend thousands on hydroponic equipment to make thousands more in illegal drug sales — trying to evade detection by authorities.

“Their goal obviously is to mass produce marijuana that they’re not having to buy from anybody else to resell. It’s all profit,” Brockton Police Chief William Conlon said.

On Sunday, Brockton police busted a large-scale marijuana growing and processing operation inside a Centre Street home. Police estimated the street value of the marijuana seized at more than $500,000. No arrests had been made by Monday afternoon, but police said they had at least three suspects.

Similar operations also have been found in Randolph, Braintree, Taunton and Carver in recent years.

In January, Randolph police seized nearly 300 marijuana plants and 38 lamps equipped with automatic timers from a Grove Street house. The marijuana had an estimated $200,000 in street value.

In June 2008, Carver police arrested a Center Street resident for growing marijuana in an underground backyard bunker, where authorities found fans, ventilation ducts with motors connected to outside vents, an irrigation system and grow lights with electrical timers and shades on pulleys.

In 2007, Braintree police busted an Elm Street couple for running a marijuana farm worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their rented suburban home. Police also found dozens of boxes of harvested plants, drug packaging materials, and a handgun and rifle ammunition at the home.

In 2006, Taunton police seized more than $100,000 worth of marijuana and charged three people with dealing marijuana grown in a sophisticated basement greenhouse at a Robert Avenue home.

Levels of marijuana use are higher than those for any other drug, particularly among adults, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. More than 25 million individuals ages 12 and older used marijuana in 2007, much higher than for any other drug surveyed, including pharmaceutical drugs, 16.2 million, and cocaine, 5.7 million.

Indoor marijuana cultivation is increasing nationally because of high profit margins and seemingly reduced risk of law enforcement detection, according to the 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment.

It is also increasing in New England, where a shorter outdoor growing season and aerial eradication efforts outdoors by authorities are moving illegal marijuana production indoors, said Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the New England division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“People will buy these houses and use it strictly for growing marijuana. Nobody will live there. They’ll basically use it as a marijuana laboratory,” Pettigrew said.

Indoor marijuana cultivators are also able to generate higher profit margins from indoor-produced marijuana, since controlled growing conditions generally yield higher-potency marijuana, according to the 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment.

Last year, Massachusetts became the 13th state to lift or ease criminal penalties on marijuana possession. The proposal made having an ounce or less of the drug a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. If it’s more than an ounce, a suspect can be criminally summonsed.

But “decriminalizing marijuana certainly did nothing to reduce its use,” Carver Police Chief Arthur Parker Jr. said. “Sophisticated grows similar to (Brockton and Carver) aren’t put together without a lot of planning, or engineering.”

Area residents can watch out for suspected grow houses in their neighborhood, said Conlon, the Brockton police chief.

People who notice a home is unoccupied, or windows are boarded or shades are always down, but people are coming and going from it on a regular basis or at odd hours, should report the activity to police, he said.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” Conlon said of marijuana grow houses. “People are going to continue to engage in distribution in a drug like this as long as it’s popular.”

Maria Papadopoulos can be reached at mpapadopoulos@enterprisenews.com.