Even though several states have legalized marijuana, you can still be arrested and prosecuted for growing marijuana unlawfully. Law enforcement agencies at the federal and state level still devote significant resources into investigating illegal marijuana “grow operations,” which involve the use of multiple “grow houses” in residential neighborhoods to grow large amounts of marijuana indoors while avoiding detection from law enforcement.
Because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, the DEA and other federal agencies are still aggressively investigating and prosecuting marijuana grow houses cases. Even in states where marijuana is legal, law enforcement has targeted and raided growers operating in the black market or people grow marijuana without a state license.
As the DEA noted in its 2020 “Threat Assessment” report, marijuana supply from foreign countries like Mexico “has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana.” In other words, marijuana arrests at the border are decreasing while increasing in the suburbs.
What happens during a marijuana grow house investigation?
Whether the investigation is being conducted by federal or state law enforcement, or, as is often the case, both, law enforcement officers are trained to look for certain patterns in marijuana grow house cases, such as whether certain houses in a neighborhood are using a disproportionate amount of electricity, stealing utilities, emitting an odor of raw marijuana, or have covered windows or discarded growing equipment outside, such as potting soil or electrical supplies. Investigators also look at features such as the seize of the house’s basement, the height of its fences, whether there are special vents, and whether the lights stay on at unusual times.
In many cases, law enforcement also conducts “trash pulls,” where officers literally go through a house’s trash cans looking for raw marijuana plants, growing or packaging equipment, or receipts or other documentation reflecting a grow house operation. In some cases, officers can take out search warrants and use special equipment to detect if marijuana is being grown inside a house. Even without a warrant, law enforcement officers can sometimes detect radio interference from grow house equipment and use that to identify a grow house.
As in other investigations, law enforcement also relies on surveillance, especially in cases involving multiple grow houses where law enforcement tries to tie certain houses or individuals together as part of a bigger operation. For example, law enforcement officers are trained to believe that individuals making frequent and short visits to certain houses is a sign of a grow operation, and officers often obtain property records to look for common ownership or potential straw purchases.
What are the penalties in marijuana grow house cases?
The penalties for unlawfully growing marijuana can be severe, especially where there is a high quantity of marijuana involved. At the federal level, prosecutions in marijuana grow house cases are usually brought under 21 U.S.C. § 841, which prohibits the “manufacturing” of marijuana. These charges usually carry a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 10 years if convicted, though the mandatory minimum can be higher depending on the quantity of marijuana or the defendant’s criminal history.
In states where marijuana remains illegal, manufacturing marijuana can carry harsh sentences, including mandatory minimum sentences that depend on the amount of marijuana involved. Under Georgia law, for example, growing between 10 and 2,000 pounds carries a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison, 2,000 to 10,000 pounds carries 7 years, and 10,000 pounds or more carries a 15 years. The potential sentences are worse for individuals with prior convictions.
What can our firm do to help?
Our firm has represented several individuals with felony drug charges based on their operation or participation in a marijuana grow operation. In one recent federal case, we helped our client receive a probation sentence in a case involving 13 people, multiple houses, 1,500 plants, and over $7 million of seized marijuana.
We are able to obtain successful outcomes in these cases because we work hard and are familiar with the investigative tactics and available defenses to marijuana grow house charges. We know which motions to file if a grow house is illegally searched or if the police seize evidence unlawfully. We know experts who can analyze the government’s test results and determine if the tests are able to distinguish between illegal marijuana and legal hemp.
If you or a loved one is facing charges or being investigated in a marijuana grow house case, contact our firm. We will work hard for you and to obtain the best possible outcome.
Sentencing Trends in Marijuana Grow House Cases
We have also compiled a list of marijuana grow house cases in Georgia and at the federal level to illustrate the types of sentences imposed in such cases, which often depends on the amount of marijuana seized, the number of houses used, and other case-specific facts.
- Hung Ban Nguyen, Trung Bui, and several others were convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation in the Northern District of Georgia that involved over 1,500 plants and 300 pounds of processed marijuana. Nguyen, the alleged leader, received 30 months in prison. Others in the conspiracy received sentences ranging between probation and 24 months. The case number is 2:02-cr-00108.
- Le Mu Nguyen and 12 others were convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation, an illegal hydroponics store, and laundering over $2.5 million. The group was charged with growing “thousands” of marijuana plants in as many as 30 houses in the Western District of Washington. Nguyen, the alleged leader, received 41 months in prison. The other defendants received sentences ranging between probation to 36 months. The case number is 2:07-cr-00132.
- Manuel Pupo and 8 others, including his family members, were convicted of several offenses relating to their operation of a marijuana grow operation using houses obtained through mortgage fraud. Pupo was sentenced to 87 months, later reduced to 70, and the sentences for the other defendants ranged between 15 months and 63 months. The case was brought in the Southern District of Florida, and the case number is 2:08-cr-14060.
- Santos Ramirez-Alvarez and Santos Ramirez-Carrilo were convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation on federal land in the District of Colorado. The two were accused of growing over 9,000 marijuana plants and received sentences of 57 months and 60 months, respectively. The case number is 1:17-cr-00338.
- Fernando Herrera was convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation on federal land in the District of Colorado. He was accused of growing over 5,700 marijuana plants, and he was sentenced to 60 months in prison. The case number is 1:17-cr-00402.
- Vincente Duque was convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation on federal land in the District of Colorado. He was accused of growing over 7,500 marijuana plants and illegal entry as an unlawful immigrant. He was sentenced to 45 months in prison. The case number is 1:17-cr-00320.
- Danilo Jemenez-Lopez and Margarito Yepez-Sanchez were convicted of operating a marijuana grow operation on federal land in the District of Colorado. The two were accused of growing over 14,000 marijuana plants, and Jemenez-Lopez was also convicted of illegal reentry by unlawful alien. They received sentences of 60 months and 36 months, respectively. The case number is 1:17-cr-00372.
- Andrew Waite was convicted in the District of Maine for operating a grow operation involving 500 pounds of processed marijuana, 350 marijuana plants, and 104 sheets of marijuana concentrate. He was also charged with firearm offenses, and he was sentenced to 6 years in two related cases. The case numbers are 2:19-cr-00195 and 2:18-cr-00113.
- Christopher Williams and four others were charged in the District of Montana with operating a marijuana grow operation and related firearm offenses. The offense involved over 950 marijuana plants, over 100 kilograms of processed marijuana, and $1.7 million in overall marijuana produced during the operation. As the leader, Williams was sentenced to 5 and a half years, while two other defendants who pleaded guilty received sentences of 4 years in prison and 5 years of probation, respectively. The case number is 6:12-cr-00008.
- Brandon Tutt, Warren Wong, Anthony Bui, and 8 others were charged with distributing over 9,100 pounds of marijuana. The case was brought in the Western District of Washington. As the leader, Tutt received 57 months in prison, while the mid-level defendants received around 30 months. The lowest-level defendants were sentenced to between 1 month and 13 months in prison. The case number is 2:202-cr-00108.
- Thu Loan Dinh, Van Long Tran, Thang Van Doan, and 24 other defendants were charged with operating a marijuana grow operation involving over 19,000 marijuana plants being grown in 40 houses. The case was brought in the Southern District of Texas. Dinh, Tran, and Doan received role enhancements and received 9 years, 8 years, and six and a half years, respectively. Lower-level defendants received between 15 months to 57 months in prison. The case number is 4:12-cr-00578.
- Hueng Yu Wong, Long Luong, and Guoying Tang were charged in the District of Colorado with operating a grow operation involving over 2,400 marijuana plants and over 800 pounds of processed marijuana. Long, who supervised others, was sentenced to 7 years. Wong, who owned the land, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty. Tang was sentenced to 24 months. The case number is 1:2018-cr-00104.
- Todd McCormick and 8 other defendants were charged in the Central District of California with growing over 4,000 marijuana plants. McCormick received 5 years in prison. The sentences for the other defendants that were convicted ranged between probation and up to 1 year in prison. The case is 2:97-cr-00997.
- Bruce Levy was convicted of operating a marijuana grow house involving over 1,000 plants. Levy was arrested after hiding in Costa Rica for six years before he was ultimately sentenced, at age 70, to 20 months in prison. The case was brought in the Southern District of Florida, and the case number is 9:11-cr-80119.
- Dickson Wing Kei Hung and others were charged in connection with operating a marijuana grow operation involving over 20 houses that were illegally purchased using straw buyers. The broader operation involved 24,5000 marijuana plants and 50 houses. Hung pleaded guilty to wire fraud in relation to buying the houses and was sentenced to 6 years in prison. The case was brought in the Eastern District of California, and the case number is 2:09-cr-00438.
- In a related case, Jian Hong Liang charged convicted in the Eastern District of California with growing over 13,800 marijuana plants across 21 grow houses that were allegedly acquired through mortgage fraud. Liang, who had two separate grow house cases, was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 180 months in prison. The case numbers are 2:06-cr-00337 and 2:06-cr-00390.
- In another related case, over 30 defendants were charged with operating a grow operation in the Eastern District of California. The operation, related to Dickson Wing Kei Hung’s operation, involved over 24,500 plants and 50 houses overall. The two highest-level defendants received sentences of 105 months and 84 months, while the lower-level defendants received sentences ranging between 19 months and 60 months in prison. The case numbers are 2:07-cr-00025, 2:06-cr-00337, and 2:06-cr00390.
- George Harper was charged with growing and distributing marijuana after law enforcement seized 300 pounds of processed marijuana from him in the Middle District of Georgia. Harper had at least two prior convictions for growing marijuana and a failure to appear in the federal case, and he was sentenced to 48 months in prison. His case numbers are 5:17-cr-00017, 7:03-cr-000014, and 5:08-cr-00006.
- Fudong Wu and Hanli Yang were charged in the District of Colorado with operating a grow house including 878 plants and 10 pounds of processed marijuana. The grow house was connected to a larger marijuana grow operation involving 42 people, 240 houses, and 80,000 plants and 2,000 pounds of marijuana. Yang and Wu were sentenced to 24 months and 15 months, respectively. The case number is 1:19-cr-00083.
- Yi He and Hai Mei Zhong were charged in the District of Colorado with operating a grow house including over 1,000 marijuana plants. The grow house was connected to a larger marijuana grow operation involving 42 people, 240 houses, and 80,000 plants and 2,000 pounds of marijuana. He and Zhong were sentenced to 18 months in prison and 24 months on probation, respectively. The case number is 1:19-cr-00113.
- Zhiming Wang was charged in the District of Colorado with operating a grow house including over 800 marijuana plants. The grow house was connected to a larger marijuana grow operation involving 42 people, 240 houses, and 80,000 plants and 2,000 pounds of marijuana. Wang was sentenced to 14 months in prison. The case number is 1:19-cr-00195.
- Phuc Tran, Thuy Tran, Quang Nguyen, and 6 others were charged in the Southern District of Texas for operating a marijuana grow operation involving over 2,600 plants, 80 pounds of processed marijuana, and 8 grow houses. Nguyen, the leader, received 120 months in prison, while Phuc and Thuy Tran received 87 months and 72 months, respectively. The lower-level defendants received between 24 months and 37 months in prison. The case number is 4:15-cr-00229.
- Dang Hai Nguyen, Carry Le, Son Kim Le, and 4 others were charged in the Southern District of Texas for operating an “extensive” marijuana grow house operation involving 1,754 marijuana plants across 5 grow houses. Nguyen and Le were sentenced to 120 months, Le was sentenced to 108 months, and the lower-level defendants received sentences ranging from 2 to 34 months in prison. The case number is 4:13-cr-00303.