GBI: Grow houses can be anywhere

ALBANY, Ga. -- After several high-profile busts of marijuana "grow houses" in metro Albany over the past few years, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agents told the Dougherty County Rotary Club Tuesday that growers don't meet any particular profile and could be living right next door.

"We've taken down veterinarians, doctors, college students and all kinds of different people growing marijuana," GBI special agent Stripling Luke said of the people practicing indoor marijuana cultivation. "We've shut down grow houses in Calloway Lakes, Terrell County, nice neighborhoods and places out in the country. There is no profile.

"A grow house can literally be anywhere," Luke said.

Special Agent Nikki Rhodes agreed.

"We see people from all walks of life," said "Rhodes said. "From run-of-the-mill people just wanting to make a quick buck to serious growers who are simply looking to improve the quality of their marijuana."

And the business is lucrative. The agents say indoor organic marijuana growers (those who grow in dirt) can generate up to $1,200 per pound while hydroponic growers (those who grow in water) can fetch up to $5,000 per pound."

"A lot of those guys really take pride in their cultivation skills," said Rhodes.

Growers, unnerved by helicopters in the sky, have begun to move their operations out of sight from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

"We've begun to see a big push from the growers to move their business indoors," Rhodes said.

She then added that there are certain indicators people can look for in a typical grow house such as:

- Completely covered windows, often with a foil-like covering.

- The odor of marijuana or chemicals.

- Unusual traffic patterns.

- Power diversion, such as a junction box with high number of wires coming from it.

- Income to living expense ratio.

"If you go into a person's house and there are a lot of CO2 canisters around and they aren't in the food business, that is also a red flag," Luke added.

The agents couldn't say if the flagging economy was pushing more people into the business.

"We only have three agents to work a 36-county area," Luke said. We're so busy we really can't tell if the problem has gotten worse or not.