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Marijuana manufacturing more savvy

*Reporter’s Note: This article is part 2 of 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 — A total of 12 pot plants were discovered in Meriwether County on July 21 during the annual Marijuana Eradication Operation by the Governor’s Task Force and investigators with local law enforcement agencies.

It does not seem like a lot, but when each plant can harvest at least a pound of marijuana at a street value of $4,500, the significance of that seizure is increased, said Lt. Chris Worden, head of the narcotics division that encompasses the Meriwether, Upson and Taylor County sheriffs offices and Thomaston Police Department.

Those 12 plants equalled $54,000 confiscated out of the hands of drug dealers and can be used for community programs, Worden stated.

The number of growing sites was a vast and positive difference from the 118 marijuana plants found growing in five different outdoor locations around the county the year before, he said.

No pot plants were found in Troup County during the July 21 operation, and none were discovered the year before, stated Sgt. Nathan Taylor, head of the Troup County Sheriff’s Office narcotics division.

But both Taylor and Worden said that could mean the suspects growing the illegal plants are becoming more savvy.

“More people are moving into indoor agro-grows with marijuana because they can control the lights, water and even music. You’d be surprised,” explained Worden. “But the Governor’s Task Force has taught us how to write search warrants to look into suspected indoor agro-grows, such as obtaining their power bills.”

The plants grown indoors, known as “high grade” or “hydroponic” marijuana, also tend to be more potent, Taylor explained.

“This high-grade marijuana has a much higher THC content and provides a greater ‘high’ to the recreational user. These high-grade marijuana operations are mostly seen in indoor areas where the atmospheric conditions can be manipulated to grow high quality, potent marijuana,” he stated.

Whether the plants are grown indoors or outdoors, the first priority for all law enforcement agencies is to confiscate the illegal drugs before they reach the community.

“With any illicit drugs, there is crime,” said Taylor. “It is often said that 8o percent or more of all crime is drug related. Most burglaries, robberies, thefts, identity fraud and non-domestic violent crime … is due to an addict needing to fund their addiction. So they turn to crime.”

“As law enforcement officers, we encounter those that are impaired by drugs or alcohol when they choose to operate an automobile, patronize establishments or parties where the potential of fights break out due to drug and alcohol consumption,” said Meriwether County Sheriff Chuck Smith. ” … We’re responding to domestic related incidents where we find children deprived of the basic essentials to sustain their lives due to monies spent on drug addicted parents.”

The negative outcomes associated with drug use is one of the many reasons the Governor’s Task Force continually works with local law enforcement agencies in all 190 counties within Georgia.

“We want to teach and educate the community about getting drugs off the streets and out of the hands of children,” stated Cpl. Kevin “Moose” McNeese, with the Governor’s Task Force. “We also want to support local agencies that don’t have the funding or manpower to complete an operation such as this.”

The Governor’s Task Force was started in 1984. It is comprised of employees from the Georgia State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Community Supervision, Motor Carrier Compliance and the Army National Guard.

The state organization is a self-contained unit with its own fuel pump and mobile command post, said McNeese. All their operations, equipment and training are funded through any asset that is confiscated during forfeitures and drug seizures, McNeese added. It does not cost tax payers a single dime.

Last year, the Governor’s Task Force took down two major drug trafficking organizations during two separate busts in Monroe and Morgan counties, McNeese said. More than 22,000 plants were discovered with arrests in both Georgia and Florida.

Officials in both Troup and Meriwether counties said they are grateful for the assistance provided by the task force.

“Without their air units, we would not be able to look over large wooded areas to locate the outdoor marijuana grows that are often hidden from view in small open pockets of forested areas,” stated Sgt. Taylor.

“I so much appreciate the efforts of these officers from so many supporting agencies,” Sheriff Smith said. “… Possession of marijuana in any form is still illegal in Georgia. We will continue our efforts to locate these grow locations and arrest those responsible for manufacturing and selling the drug.”

An investigator with the Governor’s Task Force cuts down one of 12 marijuana plants found in woods in Meriwether County on July 21.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/web1_Pot5.jpgAn investigator with the Governor’s Task Force cuts down one of 12 marijuana plants found in woods in Meriwether County on July 21. Melanie Ruberti | Daily News
An investigator with the Governor’s Task Force gets ready to hit the air space above Meriwether County on July 21. The Marijuana Eradication Operation includes teams in helicopters who spot the illegal outdoor marijuana plants and agents on the ground who remove the vegetation and make arrests.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/web1_Pot6.jpgAn investigator with the Governor’s Task Force gets ready to hit the air space above Meriwether County on July 21. The Marijuana Eradication Operation includes teams in helicopters who spot the illegal outdoor marijuana plants and agents on the ground who remove the vegetation and make arrests. Melanie Ruberti | Daily News
Meriwether County Sheriff Chuck Smith, left, and an investigator with the narcotics division look over some of the plants found on July 21 in a wooded area off Lima Lane near the town of Gay. It was the second time the drug was found growing in the same spot.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/web1_Pot4.jpgMeriwether County Sheriff Chuck Smith, left, and an investigator with the narcotics division look over some of the plants found on July 21 in a wooded area off Lima Lane near the town of Gay. It was the second time the drug was found growing in the same spot. Melanie Ruberti | Daily News
Indoor pot plants prove more potent, costly

By Melanie Ruberti

mruberti@civitasmedia.com

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.