For the second consecutive year, Crime Stoppers program will be actively
engaging aviation enthusiasts in Chatham-Kent's war on drugs.

George Sanderson, a co-ordinator for Crime Stoppers, confirms that the
program is reaching out to the local aviation community to help law
enforcement agencies locate marijuana that has been planted in the middle of
cornfields or at the edges of bushlots.

Entitled Operation Pot Spot, aviation enthusiasts are being asked to keep
their eyes peeled while flying over Chatham-Kent. In some cases, amateur
pilots are deploying global positioning systems (GPS) to precisely map
marijuana plantations. Police later use the GPS co-ordinate to find the
plantation and have it destroyed.

The additional eyes in the skies have paid off, Sanderson says. Police have
been informally using amateur pilots to scout marijuana for about the last
four years, and since that time about $2.5 million in marijuana has been
located in Chatham-Kent and subsequently destroyed.

"It's made a huge difference," he tells Chatham This Week. "The police use
their own aircraft, but it makes a difference if we can also use the
services of aviation enthusiasts. We're not asking they make a special trip;
we're just asking them to keep their eyes open while they're up in the sky."

And August represents a perfect opportunity for pot spotting. Sanderson says
marijuana plants are reaching their maturity and are becoming easier to be
observed from the air.

And he anticipates that Chatham-Kent's marijuana crop will be exceptional
this year.

"Marijuana is a bit like corn, in that it loves hot weather and lots
of rain, and we've had a lot of hot weather, and in the last two weeks,
we've had good rain. So I expect that these plants are growing and
developing exceptionally well."

Sanderson adds that marijuana cultivation in Chatham-Kent is usually
successful because of the region's excellent growing conditions.
"Chatham-Kent grows some of the best legitimate crops in Canada
and, unfortunately, Chatham-Kent also grows some of the best marijuana."

Those growing marijuana in Chatham-Kent's farm fields typically plant the
seedlings after a farmer has sown corn, and the corn is in its early stage
of development. Usually what happens is that the marijuana grower will walk
to the middle of a corn field, rip out some of the corn stalks, and
re-cultivate the area with marijuana. At the time, the farmer is unaware of
what's happening, unless he spies a strange vehicle parked at the edge of
the road. But Sanderson says the planting operation usually occurs at night.

He notes the marijuana is usually allowed to grow unattended. The "owner" of
the illegal plants may make a visit once a month. But the harvest begins to
loom in late August and early September, since the illegal grower wants to
harvest his or her marijuana before the corn is taken off. Sanderson says
Chatham-Kent's marijuana harvest is usually complete by mid-September.

Sometimes legitimate harvest conditions are exceptional and the corn is
harvested earlier. When that happens - as it did in early September 2000 -
farmers usually find large tracts of marijuana.

"Two years ago the harvest was very early, and I suppose it caught the
illegal growers off guard," Sanderson says. "We had a lot of calls from
farmers that year, calling to tell us that they had found some marijuana in
their fields."

Crime Stoppers estimates the value of a single marijuana plant at about
$1,000. In 1999, an amateur pilot led police to a field where over 100
plants were discovered and subsequently destroyed.

Source: Chatham This Week (CN ON)
Date: August 7, 2002
Address: 930 Richmond St., Chatham, Ont. N7M 5J5 Canada
Copyright: 2002 Bowes Publishers Limited
Fax: (519) 351-7774
Author: Peter Epp