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Roses are dead, florists are blue

PALM BEACH - The war on drugs is also the war of the roses, frustrating florists trying to get enough of the flowers for Valentine's Day. Thousands of roses shipped from South America, where they grow best, are being destroyed as U.S. Customs' agents check for drugs hidden among them.

Inspectors with sharp metal probes stab their way through hundreds of boxes of roses a day.

"And when we pull out that probe and there's white powder on it, guess what we've found?" said Joe Krokos of the U.S. Customs office at Miami International Airport. "It's not sugar, I'll tell you that much."

During mid-February, when huge shipments of Valentine's Day flowers are needed, Customs agents intensify drug inspections at Miami International Airport.

When they are through, some roses don't smell as sweet, especially if they have been beheaded or had their stem mutilated.

"Any florist will tell you he's hurt by the drug problem," said Sandy Griner, manager of Paramount Florist in Palm Beach.

Pat Sandberg, owner of the Potted Plant and Flower Shop in Palm Beach, said: "Drugs affect everyone. Out of 400 roses, we may lose at least a couple dozen from Customs."

Customs officials acknowledge their drug checks damage flowers, but they say it can't be helped.