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Drought Helps Agents In Marijuana Battle

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Illegal Crops Drying Up Across Region, State

Severe drought has baked the state, leaving crops withered and the water supply dangerously low, but law enforcement officials say the extreme weather isn't all bad.

It's dampened the production of marijuana.

Through October of this year, drug agents have seized 16,139 plants, compared to the 92,614 plants found during the same period in 2006, due at least in part to the drought, said Noelle Talley, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Justice.

In Caldwell County, for example, pot plants usually grow to be between 6 and 8 feet tall, said David Barbour, a narcotics agent with the Sheriff's Office, but this year, the tallest outdoor plants seized barely cleared 2 feet.

"A marijuana plant is just like any other plant," he said. "If it doesn't receive enough water, it just won't grow."

The dry conditions have helped curb outdoor pot production across the state and the Southeast, as well, said Special Agent Chuvalo Truesdell, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration whose division includes North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

"I've been an agent for 18 years, and we've never had this much help from the weather," Truesdell said. "We'll take a victory wherever we can."

Outdoor marijuana crops usually hit peak heights in the late summer, Barbour said, but the dry weather stunted growth early in the season.

Most of the state's marijuana, he said, is grown in rural areas, planted near creeks so tending to the plants is more convenient and less conspicuous.

But as the smaller streams dried up during a year of record heat and little rain, so have the crops. Dragging bucketloads of water through rural parts of the state is not only a difficult task, Barbour said, but could draw attention and increase the grower's risk of getting caught.

"Growing a patch of marijuana is harder than growing a garden ... and the lack of water makes it even more difficult," he said. "The drought isn't a good thing, but it did help us out with this."

And growers can't easily move their operation indoors, where water is easily accessible.

"Hydroponic growers are quite a different operation," Truesdell said. "It's a lot more scientific and requires a lot more work ... it's a totally different commitment level."

Outdoor marijuana production in North Carolina

According to a 2006 study by Virginia-based researcher Jon Gettman, North Carolina is the fifth-largest outdoor producer of pot in the county, and marijuana is the state's top cash crop.

DEA officials said that marijuana is one of the most common drugs in the state and has recently become more prevalent. Though the drought has helped stunt the plants' growth this year, Special Agent Chuvalo Truesdell said, large outdoor marijuana operations are being planted in rural areas across the state and the Southeast.

Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2007 The Charlotte Observer
Contact: opinion@charlotteobserver.com
Website: Charlotte Observer | Today's Observer
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