$1.5B worth of marijuana confiscated in Appalachia

Roger Alford/Associated Press, Published:

(AP) — Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies confiscated more than $1.5 billion worth of marijuana this year in central Appalachia, a region where widespread unemployment may be turning some people to pot farming.

Ed Shemelya, head of marijuana eradication in the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, released preliminary figures Tuesday showing that aerial spotters guided ground crews to more than 760,000 plants during the 2012 growing season in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

They also arrested more than 400 growers in the region.

Shemelya said nearly 430,000 of this year's marijuana plants were found in Kentucky, a substantial increase for that state over 2011. The figures showed more than 192,000 plants were confiscated in West Virginia and more than 147,000 in Tennessee.

The overall haul was down from last year, when law enforcement eradicated 1.1 million plants valued at more than $2 billion. But the total for this year is expected to rise. The final tally will be available by mid-January.

The Appalachian region, a haven for moonshiners during Prohibition, has a near-perfect climate for marijuana cultivation, plus remote forests that help growers camouflage their crops.

Marijuana can be lucrative, at least for those who don't get caught. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates the street value of an average mature plant at $2,000.

Shemelya said counties where the most marijuana was eradicated tended to be the ones that are struggling economically.

"I think economic conditions in Appalachia drive the marijuana trade, and will continue to do so until such time that we start to see a recovery in Appalachia," he said.

Double-digit unemployment rates are common in coalfield counties in Kentucky. At last count, Bell, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Leslie, Magoffin and Letcher counties had unemployment rates ranging from 13 percent to 15.5 percent.

The federal Office of Drug Control Policy concentrates resources in the Appalachian region because so much marijuana is grown there — often in small plots of fewer than 100 plants that can easily be tended by a single grower. Only California produces more of the clandestine crop than Appalachia.

"Our climate, hydrology, soil are ideal for cultivating cannabis," Shemelya said. "You can't find a better mix for cultivating cannabis anywhere in the country."

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  • steve, "Hmm... you seem to be MUCH more experienced about these things...". Well, I am no "bourbon aficionado" like yourself. I like my brains sober and not pickled...which is maybe why I can tell the difference between manure and Shinola.

  • You too can become better informed by reading Andrew Thomas Weil, M.D., who is founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

  • Hmm... you seem to be MUCH more experienced about these things, so I'll kowtow to your massive use of big werdz. :o)

  • tafugate, "all that lost revenue that could be had farming legitimate crops. all that wasted revenue being spent on controlling people's desire to sit comatose drugged out on the couch. all that wasted effort that could be made learning skills and implementing them in service jobs. dumb." .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. Have you ever personally been in Appalachia? I didn't think so. If you had, you would have noticed these things called mountains and hills, which makes "farming legitimate crops" impossible. The rest of your comments are just stereotypical slurs. Speaking of dumb...

  • "I'm sure that the sheriff is glad that his own children didn't tell of all of his secrets during his campaigning!" It would appear that his "secrets" (ahem, although they are kinda hard to hide) would involve "billions served" in the temple under the golden arches.

  • "NOBODY could possibly know what that is like, anymore than they could know what an ****** feels like without ever having one.". The "******" sounds and spelled like "organism"!

  • No Steve, I am not trying to tell you any of that...I guess after reading this that I am trying to tell you that don't read so good.;-)! ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Let me factually deconstruct your post for you and see if we can come to some kind of understanding. Let's use your bourbon analogy here, although like I said in my post, "This isn't alcohol we are talking about." But since you insisted, if you are blindfolded (although sight is not a good indicator of proof either, so why go through that?) and are put behind 3 glasses of bourbon and you were not allowed to do anything but smell them, I would bet that you would have a lot of trouble sniffing out which proof is what. I would bet that tasting them would still be a tough way to tell, but you'd be able to get a lot closer (on the first one, anyway). Now if you were to drink them, you could probably tell by which one burned the most on the way down, or how bad a face that you made after you socked them back. Another way would be to feel the effects, but after the first one, it would be hard to discern which one is making you feel what, and you'd be drunk enough by that third one to make it quite inconclusive. But like I said, this ain't alcohol we are talking about here, and BTW, I never said anything about a "machine" testing. And if you are a bourbon aficionado, then you would have lots of personal experience with that drug. AND, with alcohol there is a direct correlation between proof and how drunk it makes you, with variations based tolerance (rules that do NOT apply to pot). ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Because marijuana is totally unique in the way it works (which scientists still are not sure exactly how that is), there is little predictable correlation between THC content and the kind of effects it will have on the consumer because the THC does not actually make someone stoned...it is only a precursor. That means that it is compound that triggers the biological reaction that produces the body's own hormones such as beta endorphins, seratonin, etc., which makes them "feel" like they are in an altered state of consciousness. When ingested, the combination of the active ingredients of marijuana acts on the cannabinoid receptors of the brain to create psychoactive effects. What that effect is depends on who is doing the ingesting, what experience that they have with the drug and that particular strain and the genetics of the plant in question. It is not a clear cut issue like you and the police try to make it. I am pretty sure that the police, being without ANY personal experience with this drug, have no earthly idea about what it is like being stoned. NOBODY could possibly know what that is like, anymore than they could know what an ****** feels like without ever having one. It is not something that you can read about (in a 'Partnership for Drug Free America' propaganda brochure, which is the highest level of information that the police are exposed to) and have even a basic understanding about the experience. ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ The police are not "dealing" with the drug all the time, they are dealing with investigating, arresting and convicting the users and growers of the drug all the time, and if someone is growing hemp or the finest strains from California, it is all the same to them. All the rest of this stuff that the police are talking about is self-aggrandizing publicity (good for the next election). It would be handy if you could learn to tell that difference. It is part of what I do, so I get good at it.

  • It works like this, 1713. Let's say you're a bourbon aficionado. You're blindfolded and put behind three glasses you're told contain bourbon, and your job was to rank them weakest to strongest. Let's say there's Wild Turkey 80 proof, Weller 90 proof (I'm making up figures here) and Old Rip Van Winkle $100/bottle 142 proof. Are you trying to tell me I'd need a piece of electronics to rank them properly? Are you telling me "They're ALL just bourbon, right?" The ONLY point I'm trying to make is, I'm pretty sure that people who deal with it all the time -- dealers, users and cops alike -- could tell good pot from bad pot. I can guess the pointsize of a printed paragraph (and catch misspellings in the process) pretty accurately. It's part of what I do, so I get good at it.

  • Tell me how that works, Steve. According to informed sources in such matters, there is no way to look at or stick your nose in weed and tell the potency. The only way is to do it, and then, it effects everyone differently. THC content still is not a sure way to tell what kind of psychoactive properties that a particular strain has...you have to do it. This isn't alcohol we are talking about. Marijuana is something that you have to learn how to get high on, as most novices don't even get high for the first several times. The Sheriff and other lawmen types are making assumptions based on no personal experience that if it is grown hydroponically, that that alone means it is high grade. all that that means is that it is grown often without soil and with a certain method of watering it. According to stuff that I read, that is the stuff of myths. .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. A little learning and baseless assumptions are dangerous things. With the intent clauses built into these laws, the legislators advised by no-nothing lawmen with no experience, apparently think that they can read peoples minds. It is just like when the Sheriff and other lawmen types forces their way into someones house and find a grow room, and also guns and money, that they can steal pot, equipment, the guns, money and sometimes the house because of forfeiture laws...laws that the lawmen types went to the Legislatures and lobbied to have passed to help them fight the drug war. They make the assumption that the money was from selling drugs, that they guns were used in the commission of a felony, and the house can be sold for lots of green. Theft is still theft, regardless if the government does it or not. These people have lost their way...and the framers of the Constitution warned us about them. .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................. Baseless assumptions can get you thrown in jail. It is just like when the Sheriff forces his way into someone's house and finds just 8 oz. (an ounce is how much a first class letter can weigh...not much) of weed, that they can charge the someone with trafficking, even though there is no other evidence that the person was selling or had sold anything.

  • While I agree that a lab is necessary to get an actual number for quantifying THC values, an "experienced person" (read into that what you will) could tell high-quality pot from low-quality pot.

  • Steve it takes a lab to test the levels of THC. Being that that story made his facebook page & state journal within hours, I don't see how he had time to test other than his own smell & sight. I would hope that they can distinguish pot from hemp. Not that it matters at this time because both are illegal. Once again, folks in their own home in a nice neighborhood not bothering anybody (other than possibly speeding, if that really happened) & they all end up in jail for growing a weed that by now, everybody except the law, knows that it is much safer than the legal vices that are sold on every street corner market.

  • I'd imagine, Bodeen, that if'n you was to stick yer nose down in a bag of "high-quality" weed and a separate bag of "everyday brown weed" you'd be able to tell which was which? Plus, I'd like to think with all their high-falutin' connections with DEA, etc. they'd have a "tester" to tell its potency. They might already be able to distinguish hemp from pot.

  • Annon 1713, Maybe our sheriff values our local weed at top dollar because it is some HIGH GRADE stuff. I don't know how he determines how much THC is in the ones that he finds but he always says it's the good stuff or high quality. How can he make that assumption by merely looking at it. I wonder if there is an enhancement to the charge if it is high grade. I've said in another post that lately the young children of these drug growers or makers are being charge also & I don't know why. I would think that the owner of the property would be held liable as in the case of our sheriff investigating a wreckless driver complaint. He goes into a house & arrest the whole family or their guests when he had no knowledge that they were actively helping in the process. These people are too young to have felonies to pack for the rest of their lives just because they didn't turn in their parent or friends. We aren't talking about heroin or cocaine or meth, we are talking about a d@mn weed & I would never expect a child to call the sheriff & say that their dad is growing pot. His children should not had been charged because they are associated by blood & dedicated to their family. Come on sheriff, if you have no knowledge of the children or their friends selling it then quit charging them with felonies & causing them a great hardship to fight the charges & whether guilty or not, it will still show on their records for the rest of their lives that they were charged with a crime & they will have to explain it throughout their lives. I'm sure that the sheriff is glad that his own children didn't tell of all of his secrets during his campaigning!

  • Need...moonshining has never left.

  • I expect a return to moonshinin'

  • $2000?!?, well the Sheriff says Frankfort's pot is worth $3000 to $5000. Who is right? Hint: Not the Sheriff. Hemp is a weed and grows like one, so it doesn't take anything special. There is nothing special about Appalachia for growing weeds, except that there are a lot of very poor folks who need something, anything to help them survive, so they do what they can. Shemelya is showing very little knowledge about farming, forestry and the culture of the region, but then again, he is the police, not a farmer, forester or social worker. He is an expert in tracking people down and putting them in jail...which is just what these poor folks in the mountains need, a felony hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives. That'll learn'em!

  • all that lost revenue fighting a losing "drug war" to keep people from enjoying a simple pleasure that is less harmful than alcohol. all that lost revenue prosecuting and paying to keep otherwise law-abiding citizens in jail. all that wasted effort that could be used fighting violent crimes. dumb.

  • all that lost revenue that could be had farming legitimate crops. all that wasted revenue being spent on controlling people's desire to sit comatose drugged out on the couch. all that wasted effort that could be made learning skills and implementing them in service jobs. dumb.

  • All that lost revenue that could be subsidizing our local, state and federal budgets in exactly the same ways that the sale of alcohol and tobacco do now. Dumb.