Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2001
Source: Times Daily (AL)
Address: P.O. Box 797, Florence, AL 35631
Contact:  2001 Times Daily
Fax: (256-740-4717)
Author: Mike Goens


Harry McGee said he remembers when Lauderdale County began a marijuana 
eradication program more than 15 years ago.

The program that is commonplace throughout Alabama had yet to begin.

"Sheriff (Billy) Townsend began that program and used his own money to pay 
for a pilot and rent an airplane," said McGee, who is a member of the 
county's drug task force. "Those first few years, it was common to get 
several truckloads of marijuana. You just couldn't imagine how much we were 

The eradication program has continued, with the assistance of the National 
Guard, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and other agencies.

The fact that the annual sweeps in Colbert and Lauderdale counties are 
harvesting fewer plants is an indication that the project is working, 
authorities said.

"The eradication is not only helpful, but it's necessary," said Colbert 
County Sheriff Ronnie May.

"It has really made a difference. In the early years, we typically got 
5,000-7,000 plants. Eradication is certainly causing them some problems. 
It's forcing growers to either change and grow the plants inside or get out 
of the business altogether."

A recent sweep netted 937 plants in Colbert County and 1,399 plants in 
Lauderdale County, officials said. They estimate that mature plants produce 
up to 2 pounds apiece, and the street value for each plant is about $2,000.

May said most of the plants found in Colbert were 4- to 8-feet tall. He 
said plants were found near Frankfort Road, Second Street in Muscle Shoals, 
Crooked Oak, Sixth Street in Cherokee, Barton, Leighton, Hawk Pride 
Mountain and near the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

Two arrests were made in connection with the operation in Colbert County.

Billy Ray Roland, 61, 5540 Frankfort Road, Tuscumbia, and David Michael 
Evans, 40, 2142 Sixth St., Cherokee, were both charged with first-degree 
possession of marijuana. Officials said they found plants growing behind 
their houses.

May said Roland told investigators that he was growing the plants. He said 
two plants were found growing behind Evans' house.

May said charges are expected to be filed in connection with marijuana 
plants found growing near a residence in the Crooked Oak community.

"It was a successful couple of days," May said. "We appreciate the 
assistance we received from the National Guard, ABI, TVA police, state 
troopers and sheriff's reserves."

McGee said arrests are expected in two cases in Lauderdale County. He said 
a felony warrant has been issued for one man who lives near Elgin, and a 
grand jury will review evidence collected against a man who lives off 
Alabama 20.

McGee said 90 percent of the plants found were east of Chisholm Road. "We 
found them virtually everywhere east of Chisholm Highway," he said. "They 
were growing them near creeks, land where timber had been cleared and all 
up and down the (Tennessee) state line."

After the helicopters moved on to other areas of the state, McGee said the 
drug task force confiscated 105 more plants, including five plants 
Wednesday that were 10-feet tall.

He said those plants were found after receiving information from residents. 
May said growers are becoming more sophisticated.

"They're not planting like they were five or six years ago," he said. "The 
eradication program is one big reason. They have modified their process, 
and we have adjusted. It's an ongoing battle."

McGee said the days of finding huge marijuana fields is over. Like May, he 
contributes the change to the eradication program.

"You'll find a few plants here and there, but there are no more huge fields 
unless it's a first-time grower involved," he said.
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