Statewide Bust Bags Pot Grow Houses

TAMPA – A statewide crackdown by authorities on marijuana grow houses led to two arrests Thursday in Pinellas and Hernando counties.

The initiative, dubbed “Operation D-Day,” involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement.

Paul Michael O’Hanlon, 63, of 704 Robin Ave., Palm Harbor, was arrested at 10:30 a.m. after authorities discovered 276 marijuana plants in his house, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said.

O’Hanlon was cooperative and consented to the search when detectives knocked on his door, the sheriff’s office said. Once inside, detectives found a marijuana grow operation in the garage, which was divided into four rooms.

O’Hanlon was charged with manufacturing marijuana. He was being held in Pinellas County Jail on $5,000 bail.

In Brooksville, Ruben Cabrera, 48, was arrested after Hernando County sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant on a house at 26208 Pine Hill Drive and found 123 marijuana plants and about 8 pounds of loose pot.

Cabrera was charged with grand theft, possession of marijuana over 20 grams, and trespass of a utility device. He was taken to Hernando County Jail with bail set at $20,500.

Hernando deputies served a second warrant at a house on 26136 Blackjack St. in Brooksville. Seized were 352 plants, about 29 pound of loose marijuana and various equipment.

The house had a hidden underground room accessible by a trap door, detectives said. No one was home at the time of the seizure.

The pot busts were coordinated through the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which enhances efforts of law enforcement agencies statewide.

Also Thursday, state lawmakers approved the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act, which enhances penalties for people growing pot in homes. The legislation, which awaits approval from Gov. Charlie Crist, was sponsored by Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, and Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Ft. Myers.

“Grow houses are creating serious threats to our neighborhoods and communities,” State Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a news release. “Not only is the new form of the drug much more potent, the grow houses often invite violence from rival operators.”

Once signed, the new law would make it a second-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants. It targets for-profit growers who exceed the state’s current threshold of 300 plants.

The legislation would also make it a third-degree felony to own a house for the purpose of cultivating, packaging and distributing marijuana and a first-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants in a home with children present.

Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920 or rreyes@tampatrib.com.

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