Suspended Sentence For Growing Pot

SNOW HILL — One of two local men indicted last fall in a vast, sophisticated marijuana-growing operation pleaded guilty this week to one count and was sentenced to 18 months, all of which was suspended.

John Harrison, 31, of Berlin, was indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on multiple counts including possession of over 10 grams of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to manufacture marijuana after the execution of a search and seizure warrant revealed a vast pot-growing operation on a property just north of Berlin. On Wednesday, Harrison pleaded guilty to the conspiracy to manufacture charge and the other counts against him were not prosecuted.
Prosecutors requested an 18-month sentence for Harrison with all but 30 days suspended. However, a visiting Worcester County Circuit Court judge sentenced him to 18 months, all of which was suspended. He was also placed on supervised probation for two years. Harrison’s co-defendant in the case, Michael Cluster, 33, also of Berlin, faces the same charges. Cluster is scheduled to appear for trial on March 12.

Last Sept. 18, local law enforcement agencies including the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, with the assistance of the Ocean City Police Department Narcotics Unit, executed search and seizure warrants at various locations throughout Worcester County following an investigation into a suspected marijuana growing operation. The search warrants yielded multiple seizures of evidentiary value including a sophisticated marijuana growing operation at a location along Route 113 north of Berlin near the defunct Beach Club golf course.

At that site, local law enforcement discovered and seized a sophisticated marijuana growing operation including a state-of-the-art irrigation and lighting system. Nearly 100 marijuana plants were seized during the execution of the search warrant at that location along with the associated equipment and the building itself.

The seizure included a recently-constructed 30-foot by 60-foot pole barn, or agricultural shed. Inside that shed was a “marijuana growing operation utilizing technologically-advanced agricultural techniques designed to maximize the amount of marijuana produced at that location,” according to a statement from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office at the time read. The statement continued, “Due to the vast amount of mature plants recovered, along with the complex nature of the grow facility, the entire facility was seized and secured.”

The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office empaneled a grand jury to review the evidence and testimony collected during the execution of the search and seizure warrants. As a result, the grand jury indicted Cluster and Harrison on various charges including possession of marijuana in amount of 10 grams or more, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, unlawfully manufacturing marijuana, and finally, “keeping and maintaining a public nuisance, to wit a pole barn for the illegal manufacture, distribution, dispensing, storage and concealment of a controlled dangerous substance,” according to court documents.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.