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Plentiful Rain Means Plentiful Marijuana

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In South Carolina, York County Leads In Number Of Pot Plants Seized

YORK--Every itch of his chigger bites reminds investigator Rayford Ervin
Jr. why 2003 has been a banner year for the illicit marijuana crop in the
pastures of rural York County.

What's been good for the pests -- bountiful spring and summer rains after
years of drought -- has also been good for people who grow pot deep in the
fields that back up to bustling Charlotte.

"To grow marijuana, you've got to have sunlight, water, fertilizer and what
we call tender loving care," said Ervin, part of a York County task force
that has so far this year seized 8,400 pot plants with a street value of
more than $21 million.

Those numbers shatter previous yearly records, and there's still a few
months left in the growing season.

From Maine to West Virginia to South Carolina, police are reporting bumper
marijuana crops in some areas.

Good growing weather was cited as part of the reason West Virginia
authorities have already seized double the amount of marijuana found last
year. Authorities seized about 30,000 marijuana plants just in July, which
was nearly equal to the amount of marijuana taken from fields in all of
2002. For the year, about 70,000 plants have been taken from what officials
call "West Virginia's No. 1 cash crop."

"We've always been notorious for growing a lot of marijuana," said State
Police spokesman Sgt. Jay Powers. "That's why we try so hard to get rid of it."

But the frequent summer downpours have proved to be too much of a good
thing for some growers. South Carolina agents haven't seen a dramatic jump
in seized marijuana plants statewide and some have reported crops stunted
by too much rain.

So far this year, South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division has
seized nearly 13,000 marijuana plants across the state. There is still
enough time in the growing season to surpass the 2002 peak of about 25,000
plants, but the numbers likely will not approach the 45,000 plants found in

SLED Chief Robert Stewart doesn't know why York County has accounted for
about two-thirds of the marijuana seized in the state so far this year.

Marijuana fields are spread throughout York County, from the rural western
areas to some small pastures in the far eastern section of the county that
border suburban sprawl.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game. We find it, they try to hide it better," Ervin
said. "But in the end, we're just going to keep finding it and keep taking
it away."

Lt. Kelly Lovelace, who heads York County's drug task force, credits the
weather with making marijuana easier to grow, but also thinks the
aggressive work of her 21-agent unit has pushed users into trying to grow
their own stash. Fourteen of the unit's 23 busts this year have been 10
plants or less, she said.

"We've had people tell us, 'We have to grow our own. You can't hardly get
any weed on the streets because you guys have been hitting it so hard,'"
Ervin said.

John Ozaluk, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's chief agent in South
Carolina, said the user who grows for himself or for a few friends is a lot
more likely to be caught.

Mass growers use concealment methods and aren't as dependent on the whims
of Mother Nature, said Ozaluk, who remembers a major bust during the
drought years where the growers had diverted a small stream to irrigate
their crop.

Pubdate: Sun, 28 Sep 2003
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Webpage: http://www.charleston.net/stories/092803/sta_28potcrop.shtml
Copyright: 2003 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@postandcourier.com
Website: http://www.charleston.net/