Federal charges are pending but no one has yet been arrested in connection with a “sophisticated” indoor marijuana-growing operation worth $500,000 annually that was found in Johnson City Wednesday evening.
Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said a two-week investigation in cooperation with his office, the First Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms led to a search warrant being executed at 2419 Melborne Drive Wednesday. Investigators found a unique hydroponic growing lab in the home that utilized lighting, PVC piping, ventilation and electronics to produce three or four crops of marijuana every year worth about $142,000 each.
Graybeal said a man being investigated further regarding the growing operation told investigators the lab could grow just under $500,000 worth of pot each year. Investigators were conferring with the United States Attorney General’s Office on possible federal charges in the case.
“Right now there’s no charges,” Graybeal said. “We’ll be going to the grand jury and possibly going federal with the gentleman, so we’re not going to release his name at the time.”
There was room for 30 marijuana plants in the lab, which was easily dismantled for quick relocation, Graybeal said. A surveillance system was connected to a flat screen television set. Everything was seized by the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve never seen a setup like this, not in the PVC pipe with the air going through it and the fertilizer and plants,” Graybeal said. “So he was set up really good inside the house.”
Graybeal said marijuana growers are turning more toward indoor hydroponic operations because it is easily concealable, the marijuana is more potent and a crop of the weed can be grown all year long, because it is not susceptible to the weather.
“I think this is about maybe the third or fourth large in-grow that we’ve had,” Graybeal said. “This one is a lot different because it’s recycling the water and it’s pumping everything within the pipes, so it’s a lot quieter, probably doesn’t use as much electricity.”
Graybeal said helicopters searching for fields of marijuana are finding less and less of the illicit plant because indoor growing operations are now the preferred method.
“I think we’re going to see more and more labs inside homes, just simply because the quality and the time it takes to grow it is so much better,” Graybeal said.
This latest bust was the result of anonymous information received by the sheriff’s office.
“We have a lot of people that have learned to trust us and give us information and (the investigators) work really good with it,” Graybeal said. “You know, I’m proud of what our department has accomplished through the citizens of Washington County.”
Graybeal said the investigation will continue.
“We’re not sure where it will lead us, but (investigators will) follow all the ends just like we always do and keep going to where we can’t go any further with it,” he said.