PIERSON -- It comes wrapped as Christmas presents, tucked inside moving
vans, or even stowed on commuter planes.

And if it finds its way to Volusia County, it most likely will pass through
the rural northwest part of the county. Since August 1999, about 4,000
pounds of marijuana has been either seized in Northwest Volusia or had ties
to the area, said Sgt. Jim Melady, who oversees special drug investigations
for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

"Nowhere else in Volusia County would be close," he said, speaking of the
volume of marijuana.

A single seizure here can net 1,200 pounds. Just last year, deputies seized
500 pounds of the drug from two men in DeLeon Springs.

The drugs usually come from Texas, Arizona and other areas along the U.S.
border with Mexico, Melady said, adding that some members of Northwest
Volusia's Hispanic communities have connections with dealers in Mexico.

"Overall, it's only a small amount of people (involved) in this area,"
Melady said. "It's just where a lot of our intelligence (information) comes
from."

Unlike the publicized crack cocaine stings made in urban areas, authorities
try to keep a low profile on Northwest Volusia pot busts, Melady said.

"When we do a seizure, there's often a bigger picture," he said. "It's not
just the people who possess the marijuana, but the organization (that deals
it)."

And the arrest of either a buyer or dealer can lead authorities to other
crimes.

"People seem to think that it's just pot,' " he said. "But there's a
significant amount of violence that goes along with it because of the money
involved."

The marijuana situation is something Tom Larrivee encounters regularly as a
resident and business owner in Pierson.

"We have to live with the problems it brings us, associations with
individuals who are on drugs and, in a lot of cases, who will do anything
to secure resources to support their habit," he said.

And it can get deadly. In 1999, a DeLeon Springs man and his pregnant
girlfriend were shot to death when their killer mistook them for drug
buyers who owed him money, according to investigators.

With tightened security along U.S. borders after the recent terrorist
attacks, drug traffic has noticeably slowed, Melady said. He said area
dealers have told undercover agents that pot is hard to find now.

"We'd (also) like to think it's because of the enforcement action we're
taking," he said.


Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Sat, 27 Oct 2001
Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal (FL)
Copyright: 2001 News-Journal Corp
Contact: letters@news-jrnl.com
Website: http://www.n-jcenter.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/700
Author: Autumn C. Giusti