Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jun 2005
Source: Messenger-Inquirer (KY)
Copyright: 2005 Messenger-Inquirer
Author: Owen Covington


During the past five years, law enforcement agencies in Kentucky have found
and destroyed an average of more than 450,000 marijuana plants annually, or
about one plant for every nine state residents.

Through Friday, police throughout the state had seized 10,295 plants so far
this year, which is about 500 more than were found during the same period
last year. And the main growing season is just beginning.

"It's still early in the marijuana growing season," said Capt. Lisa
Rudzinski, spokeswoman for the Kentucky State Police. "Within the next few
months, we'll find the bulk of the plants we find each year."

Though the majority of marijuana plants seized each year are found in the
eastern part of the state, law enforcement agencies in western Kentucky also
face the continuing challenge of weeding out local growers.

"The marijuana trade is alive and well in western Kentucky," said Cheyenne
Albro, director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force. "It's as big a
problem as it's always been."

Just this month, investigators with the Daviess County Sheriff's Department
and the local Kentucky State Police post uncovered two indoor growing

Acting on a tip, investigators found a grow room in a garage on Thoreau
Village in Masonville on June 7, which led to the arrest of 47-year-old
Eddie Hawkins on a marijuana cultivation charge.

Inside the room, officers found 15 plants, grow lights and foil lining on
the walls, as well as five pounds of finished product, scales, fertilizer
and other drug paraphernalia.

Just more than a week later, investigators found one of the most
sophisticated indoor growing operations they have seen in years in a garage
on Hayden Road in eastern Daviess County.

About five pounds of dried marijuana and 28 plants were found inside the
growing and drying rooms. Police arrested 22-year-old Chad L. Hunnel and
charged him with marijuana cultivation and trafficking, as well as
possession of drug paraphernalia.

The department charged eight people with marijuana cultivation last year,
after charging no one with cultivation in 2003 and one person in 2002,
according to the department's records.

"There's probably a whole lot more out there that we're not aware of," said
Lt. Jeff Jones, head of criminal investigations with the Daviess County
Sheriff's Department.

Kentucky has made a name for itself in marijuana cultivation, and was second
only to California in marijuana production last year, according to the
Kentucky State Police. Five years ago, it ranked third and has been as low
as fourth in the past, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

During each of the last three years, the number of marijuana cultivation
charges filed has risen, topping out at 974 charges statewide last year,
according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

Eastern Kentucky remains a popular growing location, Rudzinski said, and
public lands such as the Daniel Boone National Forest are particularly
attractive to growers.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Daniel Boone National Forest led all national
forests in the number of marijuana plants discovered, according to a 2002
report by the National Drug Intelligence Center and the state police.

"Marijuana is growing all over the state, but it is concentrated in eastern
Kentucky," she said. "There's just a lot of territory in the eastern part of
the state for them to hide operations."

Most of the marijuana produced in Kentucky is grown outdoors, but
investigators have seen a rise in indoor operations during the past several

Indoor growing operations thwart efforts to spot marijuana plots from the
air, provide growing conditions year-round, and shorten the period of time
from seed to harvest, police say. The finished product can also be more
potent than marijuana grown outdoors.

The number of indoor operations discovered by police has grown from 41 in
2002 to 71 last year, according to the Kentucky State Police. So far this
year, 17 indoor operations have been located.

A marijuana eradication team composed of state police officers and members
of the Kentucky National Guard concentrates on spotting growing plots from
the air and then investigating the operations and the operators from the
ground during the marijuana growing season, which runs from spring until

Members of that team have been using helicopters to spot marijuana plots and
will be working through the summer to follow up their investigations,
Rudzinski said.

One team is specifically assigned to eastern Kentucky, and the other teams
rotate locations around the state, Rudzinski said.

Because much of the enforcement effort is directed toward the eastern
portion of the state, the impression is created that most of the marijuana
in the state is grown there, Albro said.

The fight against methamphetamine in western Kentucky has drawn resources
away from locating marijuana growing operations, said Albro, whose task
force covers Muhlenberg, McLean and nine other counties in western Kentucky.

If more time could be spent on marijuana eradication in western Kentucky,
the number of plants discovered and seized would definitely rise and rival
the totals for eastern Kentucky, Albro said.

"We in law enforcement have to concentrate on what we see as the biggest
problem, and that's methamphetamine here," Albro said. "You're just not
seeing the amount of effort put toward (marijuana eradication) in this part
of the state."

The state police operates a drug tip line -- 1-800-DOPE-TIP -- that provides
investigators with a lot of the information needed to track down growers,
Rudzinski said. For the past several years the state police have also
distributed forms for people to anonymously report marijuana growing

"We follow up on all of those tips," Rudzinski said.
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