No, the giant marijuana bricks washing up on Florida beaches are not for the taking legally

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Beachgoers examine a bundle of marijuana that washed up at Jungle Hut Park in Flagler County, Florida, last week. (Flagler County Sheriff’s Office photo)

It sounds like the opening for another stoner movie, maybe “Harold and Kumar Go to Heaven.” Giant bundles of marijuana, apparently containing individually wrapped five-kilo bricks, have been washing up on the shores of Florida since the approach of Hurricane Florence last week, possibly from a boat that was either capsized by the storm or an airplane drop that went awry.

This set off a minor ethical dilemma among the beachgoers of Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties in the Daytona Beach area: Does one grab the weed and run, or call the cops?

This moral quandary was best demonstrated in a 911 call to the Volusia County sheriff last Thursday morning, when a woman reported, “We’re at Jungle Hut (Park) and a huge bundle of drugs or something just washed up on the beach and there are people like fighting over it.” How many people? the call-taker inquired, according to a recording of the exchange. “There’s like seven or eight people out here,” the caller replied, “and they’re all like huddling up against it, and my dad’s trying to take it so that you guys can have it all.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrived and the caller noted that one fellow had removed a brick of suspected cannabis from the bundle and was still there. The deputies asked the man about this, according to their report, and he “pointed at his vehicle and stated that he was holding it for law enforcement’s arrival.”

The brick weighed about 11 pounds, wet. The man, Robert Kelley, 61, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana over 20 grams. Medical marijuana is legal in the Sunshine State, but “it’s illegal” for recreational use, sheriff’s spokeswoman Anna Hackett observed. Kelley was jailed and it was not clear whether he has retained a lawyer.

But the bundle was just one of many that came ashore on eastern Florida’s central coast, and Flagler officials said they recovered about 100 pounds over two days. That doesn’t include the packages that were removed from the bundles by beachgoers who then fled, to include a woman in a yellow bikini who was photographed snagging at least one package from the Jungle Hut bundle, and did not stick around for law enforcement’s arrival. The Flagler sheriff distributed a photo of her in the apparent act of pot theft, but she remains at large, Hackett said.

In St. Johns County, Florida, north of Flagler, the weed packages started floating to the surface the prior weekend, when an off-duty sheriff’s deputy fished an oblong, heavily taped black package out of the water, St. Johns Commander Chuck Mulligan said. In addition, the Coast Guard discovered seven or eight packages off the St. Johns coast. There were no markings, trademarks or return addresses on any of the packages. Mulligan noted that traffickers often place their own stamp on cocaine bundles, but none were found on the cannabis packages.

Given the location and time of discovery of the packages, “these are probably all part of the same shipment,” Mulligan said. “The question is, where did they go into the water?” He said the bundles could have floated north from as far south as Puerto Rico, and could have been adrift and waterlogged for some time.

Mulligan said the shipment could have come from a boat that capsized in bad weather, or from an airplane drop where the pickup boat missed the target, or was simply dropped in the wrong place by the airborne delivery crew. Or someone being tracked by the Coast Guard may have tossed it overboard. “There’s a plethora of possibilities,” he said.

The marijuana was turned over to Customs and Border Protection for further investigation, but the agency did not respond to inquiries Monday about whether the source of the marijuana had been determined.

And In Volusia County, Florida, last Wednesday, a large bundle containing 23 smaller packages of marijuana washed up in Ormond Beach, Capt. Tamra Malphurs of the sheriff’s office said. The discovery was called in by a beachgoer and the bundle was destroyed. “This type of thing occurs a few times a year,” Malphurs said, “and we do not know where it came from.”

Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly said in a news release that the arrest of Kelley was “another great example of ‘See Something, Say Something’ … thanks to the joint effort of our citizens’ watchful eyes and good police work these narcotics are off the streets. To anyone thinking they can take advantage of marijuana washing up on shore I have a warning for you. Is it worth a trip to the Green Roof Inn charged with a felony just for some ‘free’ weed?”

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