Pubdate: Sun, 29 May 2016
Source: Times Recorder (Zanesville, OH)
Copyright: 2016 Times Recorder
Author: Kate Snyder, Reporter


ZANESVILLE - From 2008 to 2014, 32,021 marijuana seizures in Muskingum
County were reported to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, putting it
at number one in the state.

In 2010 alone, agencies in the county reported more than 25,000
seizures, which was nearly 25 percent of all marijuana seizures
reported in the state  105,121. According to the data, Pike County and
Franklin County were also top counties for marijuana seizures, and
during the same time period, Perry County had 12,290 seizures reported.

The data comes from the BCI's eradication program, which takes place
between October and April each year. BCI agents assist local law
enforcement in locating growing operations by flying by homes and
communities in helicopters.

According to the attorney general's website, BCI experts estimate a
fully mature marijuana plant can be worth between $1,000 and $1,500
once processed and sold on the streets, and higher quality plants can
fetch up to $2,000.

In Muskingum County, according to the attorney general's data,
marijuana seizures has dropped since 2010 to 780 in 2011, 447 in 2012
and 20 in 2013. In 2014, the number jumped to 159.

According to Jill Del Greco, with the Ohio AG's office, these numbers
do not reflect the exact number of marijuana seizures that occurred in
Muskingum County. While agencies are encouraged to report seizures to
the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, not all of them do.

So in Muskingum, as well as every other county in Ohio, the actual
number of marijuana seizures could be higher. Especially because,
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said, as outdoor growing operations
were shut down, more and more growing operations moved indoors, which
makes them harder to find. Current technology could allow for someone
to grow and cultivate a significant amount of marijuana from inside
their home.

"You can grow (marijuana plants) with grow lights and fertilizer and
chemicals," Lutz said.

Muskingum County is the fourth-largest county in the state by area,
and with a population of only 85,000, that leaves plenty of room, Lutz
said, to establish outdoor grow operations.

"The same terrain you need for good deer hunting you need for
marijuana," he said.

In 2010, the biggest grow operation in Muskingum County and the state
since at least 2008 netted thousands of marijuana plants. That
operation had illegal immigrants living in the fields with the plants,
which local law enforcement hadn't seen since a few years before when
people were living in the fields of a grow operation in Perry County.

The publicity both the 2010 and Perry County grow operations received
in particular helped to spur the move among many similar operations to
move out of the fields, Lutz said. Because the BCI, through it's ERAD
program, cannot help small communities locate grow operations if those
operations are inside, law enforcement has to get creative in finding
and shutting down these establishments.

"You kind of push those guys underground and see a lot more indoor
grows," Lutz said.

As a result, Lutz said officers rely much more on citizens to report
suspicious activity, such as people going in and out of buildings or
houses that citizens know to be abandoned or unfamiliar vehicles and
people suddenly populating their community. Reports of cars parked
along roads have helped law enforcement confiscate drugs, including

Zanesville Police Chief Ken Miller said his department doesn't run
into marijuana grows too often - most have been outside of city - and
when his officers do respond, it's usually to assist the Ohio Highway
Patrol. OHP monitors the interstate and occasionally make busts
through traffic stops and vehicle searches.

"They've handled some pretty good seizures...coming through on the
interstate and passing through Zanesville," Miller said.

The department does have an officer appointed to the joint drug unit
with the sheriff's office. That unit handles long-term drug
investigations, he said.

With the recent legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio, opinion
remains divided on whether all types of marijuana should be legal.
Lutz said in his experience, marijuana is a gateway drug and is nearly
always present at busts primarily involving heroin, cocaine or

It's easy to grow, he said, and despite the trends toward heroin,
cocaine and harder drugs, marijuana remains prevalent in the county.

The way to curb the drug issues in the county has to be through
rehabilitation and education as well as shutting down operations, Lutz
said. With rehab, people who were once dependent on illegal substances
can get out of that lifestyle and have a small but significant impact
on drug use in the county.

Also, by expanding the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to
sixth, seventh and eighth grades instead of just fifth grade, more
young people will be aware of the effects of drug use and avoid it

"If you take away the demand, the supply has no place to go," Lutz
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