Police seize 400 pounds of pot

Upper Fells Point man charged after elaborate indoor growing system is found


One-fifth of a ton of marijuana, a sophisticated plant cultivation system and marijuana plants -- some 4 feet tall and growing -- were confiscated when city police raided an Upper Fells Point rowhouse after receiving a tip on the department's drug hot line.

Police entered a three-story rowhouse in the 1900 block of East Pratt St. about 9 p.m. Tuesday. John Arbuckle, 33, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Police said Arbuckle was in the house.

Yesterday, the 400-pound marijuana cache, worth an estimated $1.5 million, was put on display at Baltimore Police headquarters. Lt. Dan Lioi, of the organized crime unit, said an elaborate indoor system for growing marijuana was found on the second and third floors.

Neighborhood residents said police stayed at the house until the early hours of yesterday morning, providing a rare bit of excitement on an otherwise quiet street in a steadily gentrifying area.

"We've never had nothing like it go on, not around here," said Lorraine Voelker, 73, who has lived in the area since she was 7 years old. "It was shocking to everybody, I think. You don't suspect it."

The raid followed a four-day investigation sparked by a tip phoned in Friday by a neighborhood resident, police said.

During the raid, police said they found 11 four-foot-tall marijuana plants, many with roughly 1-inch-thick stems, and an array of marijuana plants hanging over garden hoses strung through the house like clotheslines.

Lioi said the crop included plants that are "better-quality than the typical product." He said the cultivation equipment, which included watering and dehydration systems, timers and 15 to 20 lights used to heat the plants, probably cost thousands of dollars and took several days to install.

"It's rare that we come across something that's this elaborate," he said. "It seemed like he's been doing this for a while."

Voelker said she and several other neighbors sat on their front steps until about 3 a.m. yesterday, watching police remove bag after bag of marijuana and cultivation paraphernalia.

The block has seen an influx of young couples and professionals in recent years. Several houses on the block are being renovated and some are for sale, including two next to the site of the raid.

Voelker said she rarely saw Arbuckle, but when he was in the neighborhood he never bothered anyone. "No traffic going in and out [of the house], no running around, no nothing," she said.

Police said they found the first floor of the house filled with trash and doubt that Arbuckle lived there. Property records show that he does not own the house.

Ed Marcinko, president of the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, said he was pleased that someone in the neighborhood had phoned in the tip but called the raid an aberration. "We have quality-of-life issues," he said. "That's about it."

After the tip was deemed to be "very credible," Lioi said, Detective Konstantine Passamichalis was dispatched to the location and observed the house for about four days.

Passamichalis said the rowhouse's blacked-out windows seemed to verify the tip. And then there was the odor.

"You could smell [the marijuana] coming through the door," he said.

Passamichalis also said Arbuckle matched a physical description provided by the caller.

Police confiscated large amounts of hydroponic marijuana, which sells for $3,000 per pound, and kine bud marijuana, which sells for about $6,000 per pound.

Passamichalis said each floor of the rowhouse had been set up for a different stage in the growing process, and an electrical control panel had been installed on each floor to power all the machinery.

Lioi praised the anonymous tipster for serving as a community watchdog and notifying police. "The investigation was very simple, based basically on the 666-DRUG line call," he said.

If convicted, Arbuckle could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, he said.

The seized marijuana, which will be held for evidence during the police investigation and court trial and later burned, Lioi said.


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