Reporter’s Note: This article is from a ride-along I covered on July 21 with the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office and the Governor’s Task Force during their annual Marijuana Eradication Operation, in which they look for outdoor marijuana growing sites.
GREENVILLE — The hot, humid and sultry summer morning on July 21 was not a deterrent for state and local investigators who suited up for a long day of tracking down outdoor fields full of pot plants.
The Governor’s Task Force, a state-run organization, along with local law enforcement agencies, conducted their annual Marijuana Eradication Operation in Troup, Meriwether and Harris counties that day. Part of the group hit the ground running; while three other teams took to the skies in three separate helicopters — one hovering over each county.
The air support crew scoured the land like a hawk, searching for fields of illegal marijuana plants — or even just a few plants being grown in forested areas. The illegal vegetation is not hard to spot from an aerial view.
“It has a purple haze to it … almost neon-like. So it stands out from the other vegetation,” explained Lt. Chris Worden, head of the multi-agency narcotics division, which encompasses the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, Upson County Sheriff’s Office and Thomaston Police Department.
Once detected, the helicopter crew radios to investigators with the ground unit, giving them coordinates and hovering over the caravan until they reach the outdoor grow site.
It was early afternoon before the air unit in Meriwether County caught sight of some pot plants growing in the woods off Lima Lane in the town of Gay.
Investigators cut down 12 marijuana plants growing in the area — a place they had been to before, stated Meriwether County Sheriff Chuck Smith. Two years ago, investigators discovered dozens of illegal plants being grown there as well.
A well-worn path and empty gallon buckets strewn around the site proved that someone was tending to the marijuana plants by transporting water to the illegal garden, Smith explained. It only takes three to six months to grow the plants before they are ready for harvesting.
While confiscating 12 marijuana plants may not seem like a lot, it becomes more substantial when multiplied by a plant’s estimated street worth, if it is fully harvested. Each plant seized equals about 1 pound of marijuana that can be sold on the streets, said Worden. One pound equals about $4,500. Those 12 plants found off Lima Lane equaled about $54,000.
“Our plant count is down, but the number of arrests and assets that are seized during the Marijuana Eradication Operation is up,” explained Cpl. Kevin “Moose” McNeese, with the Governor’s Task Force.
Sgt. Nathan Taylor, head of the Troup County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division, said he has seen firsthand the importance of confiscating pot plants from outdoor grows and taking the drug off the streets.
“Marijuana use in Troup County is quite prevalent,” Taylor said. “… We all have heard that marijuana is considered a ‘gateway drug’ and it is still considered as such. Over the years, I have interviewed many addicts of methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription pill narcotics … who stated that they began experimenting with drugs by using marijuana.
“They explained that after using marijuana, they wished to achieve a greater high and then experimented with the harder drugs. … Before they knew it, they were hopelessly addicted to those drugs and were helpless as their lives spiraled out of control.”
No marijuana plants were found in Troup County during the last two years of the Marijuana Eradication Operation, stated Taylor. But no plants found does not necessarily mean there is not a problem, he said.
It may mean the beginning of an alternative, more hidden way to produce pot plants that yields more growths and can remain undetected from law enforcement officials.
See how the Governor’s Task Force, along with local investigators, are combating this new illegal technique in part two of this series in Tuesday’s edition of the LaGrange Daily News.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.