Police arrested a Homer man last week for running the biggest marijuana grow operation in the city’s history. That’s according to Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.
“It’s the largest grow I’ve seen in my over 30 years of law enforcement. I’ve heard of larger ones being taken down in the state, but this is the largest one I’ve seen and the largest one in Homer’s history,” said Robl.
Police seized between $1 and $1.5 million worth of marijuana plants from a building leased by 32-year-old Joseph Gabryszak of Homer. Gabryszak arrived at the scene during the raid and was arrested.
The Homer Police Department and members of the Soldotna Drug Enforcement Unit served a search warrant Friday for the building located about three miles east of downtown Homer. Robl says the Soldotna officers were invaluable in securing the evidence confiscated.
“They came down at our request and helped out in processing this huge amount of evidence. Every plant is evidence and has to be seized as such. They came down with a U-Haul van and they have a storage facility for marijuana plants that we don’t have,” Robl said .
Officers seized 1,012 marijuana plants and 59 light ballasts. Light ballasts regulate the amount of electricity used by fluorescent lamps. According to a criminal complaint filed by Homer Police Sergeant Ryan Browning the ballasts were worth about $25,000. Robl estimates startup costs for the facility were around $50,000.
Police first suspected the building in early February because its windows were blacked out and there was a strong marijuana smell coming from inside.
“It’s very distinctive and after you’ve been doing this for a few years you know what you’ve got when you smell that and you walk closer to the building and the odor gets stronger and you can tell it’s coming from the building itself… it’s very telling,” Robl said .
Gabryszak faces three felonies: intentionally manufacturing a schedule 6A controlled substance, possession of more than 25 marijuana plants and knowingly maintaining a building used to store controlled substances. Chief Robl says he could face as many as fifteen years in prison.
Sergeant Browning wrote in his report that Gabryszak admitted the “operation was his and his alone,” and that he financed the operation from his past earnings working road construction.
Next week state regulations go into effect allowing people who want to grow commercial cannabis to apply for licenses with the state. The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board says those applications won’t be available until February 24th. But, freedom to apply isn’t the same as freedom to grow or to sell.
“Until someone actually has a permit in hand and their premises have been inspected in accordance with that permit and compliances observed they’re not authorized to grow a single plant,” Robl emphasized.
The Homer City Council is considering two ordinances regarding marijuana regulations. One would ban commercial marijuana altogether and the other would allow commercial cultivation in areas like the neighborhood off East End Road where police made the bust.
Gabryszak told police that, “it was about to be legal to grow marijuana and he wanted to know if he could do it,” according to court records. He’s being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai. According to online records he has no prior criminal history in Alaska.