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NAPLES — Most people accused of crimes deny they committed them. That’s not the case with Stephen Denis Vanalphen, 43, who says he did it, he’s doing it now and he will do it again.
Vanalphen smokes marijuana. He was growing pot in his Naples apartment until city police confiscated all the plants on Feb. 17. On Thursday, a week later, Vanalphen was moving out of the place that once housed his “gardens.”
Although it was a lot of pot, he said he isn’t a drug dealer.
“Drug dealers are scum,” he said.
That’s why he chose to grow his own weed.
He was charged with the third-degree felony of manufacturing and cultivating marijuana after police said they found 14 plants and a growing system in his Curlew Avenue home. The marijuana plants weighed 16 pounds and the one-gallon plastic bag of dried pot, leading to another third-degree felony charge, weighed 76 grams, which is equivalent to 2.7 ounces, according to reports.
The value was about $52,000, police said.
He also was charged with possessing paraphernalia for cultivation, another third-degree felony, and possessing paraphernalia for personal use, a misdemeanor.
The three third-degree felonies each come with maximum penalties of 5 years in prison. While Vanalphen said he is happy and proud and high, he said he fears he will be spending a long time in prison.
Thinking about the potential of that happening, his eyes widen as he shakes his head, utters an expletive and sits back down on the sofa in his dark living room.
His gray tiger-striped cat named Herb brushes against his leg.
Vanalphen quickly returns to talking about his weed like a person proud of their masterpiece.
“Every one of my neighbors was aware I was a pothead. Not any of them were aware what was going on in my closet. I’m that good at it,” he said.
Neighbors describe Vanalphen as easy to get along with, somewhat of a recluse other than playing Backgammon with one particular friend on occasion — and someone they never would have guessed grew so much weed.
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“It pays to treat your neighbors well when you’re growing weed in your closet,” Vanalphen said.
He opens his “portfolio,” an album on his coffee table with photographs of buds, plants, equipment and his “closet gardens.”
It sat next to an empty bottle of vodka converted into a bong, but since it had yet to be used, the police left it behind.
The growing system elaborately connected the air-conditioning vents, the clothes dryer, lighting systems, water systems and other areas in the home to allow one closet for growing and one closet for drying, reports and Vanalphen described.
It’s all gone.
The home now lacks lights since the police confiscated all the grow lamps.
Vanalphen isn’t happy with the “snitch,” a mold inspector who told the landlord and then police that he saw six nearly 6-foot-tall plants and eight smaller plants.
“What I was not thinking would happen is that a complete stranger would take it upon himself to act in this fashion,” Vanalphen said. “I’ve never had an enemy at all in Naples. Now all of a sudden this A/C guy is undercover informant guy.”
Playing in the background on a TV was a how-to video on marijuana growing.
The video supplies recipes for using marijuana in salmon dishes, “stoner spaghetti,” butter and jelly.
“Everybody knows that smoking in excess is bad for you so eating it...,” Vanalphen trails off to another topic again during the interview with the Daily News.
“This is all I wanted to do since I was 12 years old — become a criminal mastermind without hurting anyone. No, that’s too much,” he said and then laughs.
He recalled his first experience smoking pot at age 12 in Detroit where he and a friend collected the parents’ “roaches,” or spent marijuana cigarettes, then put them together and rolled their own joint.
“It (the pot) did exactly what it was supposed to. I haven’t stopped since — and I’m high right now.”
He attributes his “ping-ponging” from one topic to another to attention deficit disorder.
As to whether Vanalphen was self-medicating, he only said that pot helps him avoid the problems he had with alcoholism.
“I got sober nine years ago,” he said. “I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. Pot is not a drug.”
Vanalphen’s publicizing that he is currently smoking pot doesn’t concern police.
“He can say whatever he wants to the media,” Naples police Lt. John Barkley said.
“We haven’t witnessed him smoking marijuana, so we can’t take action on what he said,” Barkley said.
It doesn’t matter, Vanalphen said.
“Stop jailing nonviolent marijuana offenders,” he exclaimed with a quick change in tone and volume.
He has a large petition demanding their release with hundreds of signatures on it setting on his kitchen counter.
He was homeless for years as he battled alcoholism — something he said took generations of men in his family.
“Doc upon doc was disappointed. Said I was chronic. I’d never get any better,’’ he said. “Nobody has ever beat their wife because they’ve been smoking marijuana.”
Although he described his pot growing as “professional,” he said he meant the equipment not that he earned money from it.
“I thought I’d get cinch-sacked and carried out like a six-pack. That didn’t happen. That hasn’t happened ever since I quit drinking,” the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Vanalphen said of alcoholism. “I rely on marijuana as too much of a crutch. Chocolate chip cookies will get you, too. Don’t overdo it, folks.”