Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Executing drug dealers may get easier

By Bill Cotterell


Gov. Charlie Crist, who once sponsored a law allowing the death penalty for major drug kingpins, said Tuesday the state might want to make it easier to execute dealers.

During an hourlong briefing, top state and federal law-enforcement officials said Florida has a major problem with indoor marijuana cultivation and abuse of legal prescription drugs.

Crist, whose tough-on-crime rhetoric earned him the nickname "Chain Gang Charlie" as a state senator, recalled at the start of a special Cabinet meeting that he wrote a law creating the offense of "capital importation of cocaine" for trafficking more than 300 kilograms.

No one has been executed for that offense; and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said he did not know of any state attorney seeking the death penalty in a drug case. State drug-policy chief Bill Janes said that's a huge amount of cocaine.

Then the state ought to consider lowering the threshold, Crist said.

"Obviously, this is getting at somebody who's a massive drug peddler," Crist said.

Janes and Attorney General Bill McCollum organized the briefing just as the FDLE released an interim report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission on drug-related deaths. In the first six months of this year, the report said, about 87,000 people died in Florida and 3,980 of them had one or more illicit drugs in their bodies.

Janes and Bailey were joined by Mark Trouville, special agent in charge of the Miami office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton. They told Crist and Cabinet officers about state efforts to combat a wide range of drugs. They agreed that methamphetamine production and improper sale of prescription drugs are burgeoning threats and said indoor marijuana cultivation is putting a highly potent form of pot on the streets.

Trouville said "Miami continues to be the primary command and control center" of the South American drug trade, but that increased enforcement in Florida has shifted some smuggling operations to Mexico — with drugs crossing the Southwest and heading east on Interstate 10.

The federal agent also said 44 of Florida's 67 counties reported indoor marijuana cultivation last year and that "grow houses" can produce pot that is 20 percent more powerful than plants grown outdoors.

Crist, a former attorney general, says the war on drugs can be won.

"Statutes like the one that I had the opportunity to put on the books, if we can get those enforced, if we can have good prevention programs, if we can have good education about how detrimental drugs are to our population e_SEnD yeah, I'm always an optimist," Crist said.


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