Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

WV State News

September 17, 2012

W.Va. on track to top 2011 marijuana eradication

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia State Police is on track to seize and destroy more marijuana plants than last year despite the dry weather that likely scorched some crops.

Sgt. Mike Smith, head of the State Police marijuana eradication program, said he expects up to 200,000 marijuana plants statewide to be seized and destroyed this year. That would top the 2011 total of 185,510 plants.

West Virginia ranked fifth among states for the number of pot crops authorities destroyed in 2011, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Three of the top five marijuana-producing states in are Appalachia, with Tennessee and Kentucky joining West Virginia. California was in first place with nearly 4 million plants seized or destroyed.

“It’s been an ideal season for growing,” Smith told the Charleston Daily Mail “We had a dry spell from May to July and we expect some of the plants were lost through scorching. The plants really struggled through the dry weather.

“But overall we’re about where we were last year.”

The locations vary from year to year. Growers move from areas targeted by the eradication program to other areas.

“It’s almost like a balloon,” he said. “You squeeze in one spot, air forces in a different direction. Once you apply pressure to certain counties and start cutting it down they’ll go to other areas.”

But marijuana crops aren’t as plentiful in southern West Virginia as they once were. Smith said traditional growers in the region are aging and switching to pills.

Smith said West Virginia is ideal for growing marijuana because of its climate and terrain.

Troopers use helicopters to spot marijuana from the air and all-terrain vehicles to track it on the ground. Sometimes they are able to find crops by themselves, but more often they get tips from the public. They often work with DEA and local agencies.

Outdoor searches continue until the first frost, then troopers turn their attention to indoor growing facilities.

Smith said budget cuts could limit how often troopers will search for crops in 2013. 

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked most state agencies to begin trimming 7.5 percent from their budgets next year. While the State Police trooper retirement fund and other retirement-related liabilities are exempt from the governor’s request, there is no general provision exempting law enforcement activity.

It isn’t yet clear how any budget cuts would affect Smith’s program.

“We’ve done a really good job on outdoor eradication, but depending on how the budget runs we might not even be doing outdoor eradication as much next year,” Smith said. “If it comes down to it, we’ll adapt.”

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