The bust occurred just two weeks before the state Legislature considers expanding the approved uses of medicinal marijuana and days before the federal government took the first steps towards legalizing hemp.
On Jan. 30 the “MCS unit,” a regional narcotics agency that works undercover for Marietta-Cobb-Smyrna, executed a search warrant at a home on John Petree Road, northeast of Powder Springs off Macland Road.
In the home’s basement, police reported finding 191 plants of suspected marijuana “with root systems intact” at various stages of growth, according to the arrest warrant.
“The residence was a full indoor marijuana grow operation,” the warrant said, with lights, lamps, hoods, a watering system, timers and plastic bags containing more than a pound of pot.
Hemp next national cash crop?
Until Congress passed the sweeping Controlled Substances Act of 1970 it was not a crime to grow cannabis plants, and in fact the hemp cultivated from these plants was widely used in the U.S. textile industry. The 1970 Act, however, criminalized the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana, also called cannabis.
The fiber of the cannabis plant, called hemp, has a wide range of commercial uses, including paper, clothing, biodegradable plastics, health and beauty products, health food and bio-fuel. If legalized, hemp could be a profitable commercial crop that provides needed tax revenue.
On Feb. 4, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion farm bill that would allow universities and state agriculture departments to grow industrial hemp. The programs can only operate in states that permit the growing of hemp, such as Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
The industrial marijuana crop yields only a small amount of the of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component which is consumed for its psychoactive effects from plants grown illegally for recreational use.
A push by grassroots groups to decriminalize the farming of hemp has raised concerns about how to continue enforcing laws against the illegal use of the drug.
Georgia State Attorney General Sam Olens said he is not worried that farming legislation passed by the federal government would hinder local law enforcement from making future busts of marijuana grow houses.
Police pursue suspects
At the time of the January drug bust, the warrant said Vinh Thanh Tran of Kennesaw drove past the residence in his 2011 Jeep Compass.
Tran is accused of failing to stop his vehicle when signaled with lights and a siren by Cobb Police Officer Mike Bowman in a marked police car.
“(Tran) was in possession of the house key on his key chain,” said the warrant about the suspect’s connection to the alleged basement pot-growing operation.
Tran faces two felony and two misdemeanor charges, including manufacturing, distributing or selling marijuana and attempting to elude police.
He was granted a $200,000 bond, but has not been released from the Cobb jail.
According to the warrant, “correspondence” in the house contained another suspect’s name, Le Thai Ninh.
A second search warrant was granted for a Marietta home east of Powder Springs Road.
The search on Garland Drive resulted in the Marietta-Cobb-Smyrna Narcotics Unit finding more than half a pound of alleged marijuana, high-wattage lights and fertilizer, “further indicating (Ninh) was involved in the grow operation at 2744 John Petree Road,” the warrant said.
Ninh was arrested on two felony charges of manufacturing, distributing or selling marijuana. He is still at the Cobb jail, being held on a federal immigration issue.
Legislatures welcome Cannabis Day
Monday was the second annual Cannabis Awareness Day at the Georgia State Capitol, held by the Georgia CARE Project, a campaign for reforming laws against marijuana.
According to James Bell, Georgia CARE’s director, decriminalization of marijuana is supported by 60 percent of registered voters in Georgia.
“We now have a majority of voters supporting law reform and we want our legislators to know that,” Bell said. “Marijuana is not a crime.”
The all-day event began by providing state legislatures with information, including the use of marijuana extract by patients with specific medical conditions.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Georgia’s current Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Act allows for the use of cannabis to treat cancer and glaucoma patients.
On Monday afternoon, state legislators began debating House Bill 885, opening up the floor to testimony by physicians and families of hospitalized children.
The medical marijuana legislation has been dubbed Haleigh’s Hope Act, in honor of a 4-year-old Forsyth girl whose family hopes cannabis extract can calm her epileptic seizures.
If the House votes to add epilepsy to the therapeutic controlled substance list, the bill will move to the Georgia Senate and finally to Gov. Nathan Deal to sign into law.
When asked if he thought a change in the medicinal use of cannabis would spur the decriminalization of all marijuana use in Georgia, Olens said he never comments on pending litigation, but pointed out medicinal marijuana is only in extract form and not for smoking.
Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said until the Georgia policy against growing cannabis shifts or state legislators indicate to his office that the law will change, manufacturing marijuana is still illegal in Georgia.
Even medicinal marijuana is distributed in pill and liquid form, so that use does not inhibit local police from pursuing cases were people are growing marijuana plants, Reynolds said.
If the federal government does allow for cannabis to be planted for commercial use, Reynolds said law enforcement would have to be more selective in targeting which individuals are still prohibited from growing marijuana legally.
Terms of the Trade
Marijuana: Buds, or flowers, of a female plant that contain tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Buds are dried and smoked for recreational use.
Cannabis sativa: The scientific name for the marijuana plant. The concentration of THC varies depending on growing and harvesting conditions.
Medical marijuana extract: Consumed in oil or pill form for the high concentration of THC. The process for making the oil begins by grinding the buds of a female cannabis plant.
Hemp: The fiber from the stalk of the cannabis plant. The pulp and seeds of the plant can also be used to make paper, clothing, biodegradable plastics, health and beauty products, health food and bio-fuel.