Pubdate: Sat, 12 Oct 2002
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Steve Esack, Inquirer Suburban Staff


Police use a helicopter to spot and eradicate cannabis plots. "It's a
different green that stands out," said a Pa. official.

When a salesman from Villanova
was busted from the air last week, his arrest was made through a
federally funded program little-known in the Philadelphia area but
very visible in central Pennsylvania and farther west.

State police, flying in a Pennsylvania National Guard helicopter, were
on a mission for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression
Program, a $13.2 million national effort.

According to court papers, the troopers spotted six marijuana plants
growing behind the home of George H. Davis, near the Blue Route, on
Sept. 25. Ranging from 4 to 12 feet in height, the plants were near a
tomato patch, supported with the same wire mesh holding up his
tomatoes and other plants, the troopers said.

Davis, 41, who has no prior arrests, declined to comment at his Oct. 2
arraignment on charges of drug possession, possession with intent to
deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The same day that troopers searched the Davis home, the helicopter
crew found 91 plants growing in two unrelated plots in Edgmont
Township, Delaware County. About three weeks earlier, 56 plants were
spotted in eight locations in Concord and Chadds Ford.

Pennsylvania State Police say no arrests have been made in those

State police Lt. Harold Wilson, head of a nine-county Tactical
Narcotic Team in Southeastern Pennsylvania, said the eradication
program runs all year long, but the helicopter searches are used only
during the growing season, August to October.

"The plants are visible and they stand out like a sore thumb from the
air," said Wilson. "In cornfields and wooded areas, they are hidden,
but obviously they need sunlight. It's a different green that stands

With the first frost not too far off, Wilson said, helicopter use is
winding down across the state.

Troopers said Pennsylvania's eradication program, which received
$73,000 in federal funds this year, is more likely to uncover
marijuana in less populated areas of the state, where forests and
cornfields are used by growers to hide the plants.

"West of the Susquehanna, we have a better chance of finding
marijuana," said Sgt. Robert Allan, who administers and tracks the
program from the state police barracks in Erie. "Even in the Lancaster
area, we don't find as much as we do in the central part of the state.
If we get around 10,000 plants [in Pennsylvania], it's probably a
banner year for us."

The Drug Enforcement Administration began the effort in two states in
1979. It spread to all 50 states by 1985.

In 2001, about 6,400 plants were destroyed in 532 outdoor and indoor
plots in Pennsylvania, DEA figures show, with 61 arrests and 12
weapons seized. New Jersey authorities found 1,013 plants in 61 plots,
and made 1,627 arrests and confiscated 39 weapons.

September figures for this year have not been tabulated yet, Allan
said, but Pennsylvania State Police plucked 421 marijuana plants in
July and 1,531 in August.

"We don't find much compared to other states like Kentucky and
Tennessee, which harvest upward of several hundred thousand plants,"
he said. "It's part of the job... . Otherwise, there would be more
dope on the street," Allan said. 
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