State police ask public to help find marijuana growers

April 30, 2004|EMILY BURTON

LONDON - In the home of bluegrass fields, be careful what weed you grow. State police have declared open season on marijuana in the Bluegrass and have asked citizens for their help in locating plants.

"We're getting ready to kick our season off next week," said Lt. Ed Shemely, commander of the cannabis suppression branch of the state police. It will run till June 17, and then eradication efforts will begin, said Shemely.

During the first weeks of May, the suppression team scouts out areas prime for growing the distinctive plants, including areas where marijuana has been found in the past.

Helicopters will be used to spot the cluster of plants in popular places like cornfields or between rows of hay.

"We're looking right now for locations they'll likely plant in May," said Shemely.

Distinctive green color is hard to miss

The distinctive green color is not easy to miss, after you've seen it once, said Trooper Dwaine Barnett. Many tips to the police hotline come from hunters who have wandered into patches of marijuana.


"People get out and will be out farming, and they'll just walk up on it," said Barnett.

Marijuana is dangerous to leave unreported, said Barnett, because of potential booby traps protecting the crop. Barnett said he had heard of traps being set and shotgun shells being rigged to go off.

Marijuana is a valuable crop to its protective growers, said Shemely. Last year alone, police confiscated and destroyed more than 522,000 plants across the state, with a street value of more than $1 billion, said Shemely. Many who would have used the drug don't understand its dangers.

"A lot of times with these things, people start out with alcohol and marijuana, 'cause they don't see the dangers of it. They remember smoking it in the '60s ... but people don't see the THC is a lot stronger today," said Barnett. THC is the psychoactive chemical that makes the drug's affects so popular.

Marijuana has been called a gateway drug, sometimes leading users to try harder narcotics, said Barnett.

State police have drug tip line

Those who find plants or see someone selling marijuana can make an anonymous report to state police on their drug tip line, 1-800-367-3847.

"Sometimes people call, and it's not even marijuana, it's other drugs or any other type of illegal act," said Barnett. State police also have received requests from land owners for a helicopter flyover, to check their property for plants.

"We had a state representative (who) called every year," said Barnett. Worried about political repercussions should marijuana be found planted on his farm, the representative was usually one of the first to call each year, said Barnett.

Citizens can request flyovers of their own property by calling the tip line.

Any report of a potential location will help police efforts this summer, said Shemely. "It gives us a leg up for when we start the eradication process in June."

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