Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gov, Cabinet briefed on state's drug problems

Bill Cotterell
News Journal capital bureau political editor

TALLAHASSEE -- State and federal law-enforcement officials briefed Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet today on the scope of Florida's drug problems, citing a spread of indoor marijuana cultivation and abuse of prescription drugs.

Crist said the state might want to lower the threshold on a law he sponsored as a state senator a dozen years ago, allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for cocaine traffickers who bring 300 kilograms of cocaine into the state. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey and Bill Janes, the head of the governor's drug-control policy office, said that's an awfully large amount.

Bailey said he doesn't know of any prosecutors seeking the death penalty for "capital cocaine importation."

Mark Trouville, special agent in charge of the Miami office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said Miami "continues to be the command and control center" for South American drug smuggling. But he said a lot of transit routes have been shifted through Mexico and the southwestern United States.

Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said her county is "drowning" in indoor-marijuana cultivation. She said small, rural counties need help with everything from prosecuting cases to storing large amounts of evidence.

Benton said 58 "grow houses" have been busted in her county this year and each one costs about $4,000 to dismantle, with specially trained deputies and agents taking down lights and air conditioning units.

Officers also said methamphetamine laboratories, illicit sale of prescription pills -- especially through Internet pharmacies -- and cocaine trafficking, in both crack and powder forms, remain big drug-abuse problems for Florida.

"Drug trafficking in Florida has been increasing and is often backed by international drug trafficking organizations," said Janes.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who convened the special Cabinet meeting for the briefing, called the situation "eye-opening and disturbing."

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