Source: Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY)
Pubdate: Fri, 04 Sep 1998
Author: Brian Nearing - Gazette Reporter


"You look down into a cornfield and you can see the pot plants in small
patches . . . like holes punched out in the middle of the field."

Lt. Geb Wolf State police pilot

Lt. Geb Wolf maneuvered the blue-and-gold state police helicopter over a
cornfield in Schuylerville, giving directions to officers on the ground

"Walk down that row . . . Turn right . . . some more . . . Down the row. It
should be right there," Wolf intoned into his radio headset.

The target: a 5-foot leafy green marijuana plant nestled amid row after row
of corn. An officer armed with a machete hacked it down and dragged it away,
along with about a half-dozen others.

Surrounded by rows of 8-foot cornstalks, the marijuana was all but invisible
to anyone on the ground, but not to Wolf, who was looking down at the field
from about 500 feet in the air.

As summer nears its end, the harvest season is approaching for area farmers.
The same goes for local marijuana growers, too, some of whom have already
started gathering their crop.

Wolf and other members of the state police aviation unit have been flying
for about a month, locating and pulling up marijuana plants wherever they
find them. The crop is a little early this year, like everything else,
because of the warm damp weather earlier in the season.

"You look down into a cornfield and you can see the pot plants in small
patches . . . like holes punched out in the middle of the field," said Wolf,
an 18-year pilot. "It's a distinctive shade of green. Looks a lot like a
Christmas tree . . . Doesn't match the corn."

Indeed, the dark green of the marijuana patches stood out against the
green-yellow of the corn.

Other telltale signs Wolf watches for are vehicle tracks leading into woods,
along with irrigation tubing and hoses that seem out of place. "We look
during the year whenever we're out . . . and if we notice anything, we keep
an eye on it and go back later."

Marijuana growers know that the eye in the sky is there, and do what they
can to protect their crop. Some growers in Washington County are now tying
down their plants along the ground, so the bushes don't stick up, said
Investigator Paul Gacik. Some even use camouflage netting to cover plants,
making it harder to spot them from the air.

"It's not like it was years ago. Growers would put a whole patch [of
marijuana] right in the middle of a field. A blind man could see it," Gacik

Now, the growers are planting smaller patches, so it's harder to see.
Hunting with Wolf on Wednesday turned up only the half-dozen plants from the
cornfield near Cheese Factory Road.

Those plants had been missed on an earlier police raid about three weeks

"It's hard to find it in there some-times," said Investigator Richard Sala.
"It's like a maze."

And an earlier Wednesday foray over woods near Casey Road turned up
nothing - only some Scotch pines that Wolf initially thought might be
marijuana. The marijuana was harder to spot in the woods, with its hues of
green-gray, green-silver, green-brown and green-red. Wolf circled and
circled over the woods, but came up empty.

Two undercover officers in the helicopter with Wolf had gotten a tip that
someone was growing marijuana nearby, and pointed to a nearby home. "That's
our friend there, who has twice been convicted for growing," said one.

Marijuana growing is a big business in New York state, and across the
country. Because it is illegal, it's hard to say exactly how much is grown,
said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Diane Ingalls.

But based on the value of outdoor marijuana seized by state and federal
officials, marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, well ahead of apples,
the No. 1 legal crop.

Last year, officials tore up about 43,900 marijuana plants, with a value of
between $87.9 million and $395.8 million. This is based on DEA figures that
estimate the value of a marijuana plant at between $2,000 and $9,000,
depending on the quality of the plant.

In comparison, the apple crop in New York state last year was about $144

And 1997 was an off year for marijuana, Gacik said. "It was way down. The
weather was too dry."

In 1996, more than 129,000 marijuana plants were seized in the state. That
was worth between $258 million and $1.1 billion, based on the DEA figures.
In that same year, growers produced about $138 million worth of apples.

Nationwide, more than 3.6 million marijuana plants were seized in 49 states
last year, with only Wyoming not involved in seizures, according to the DEA.

The government effort directed toward trying to eradicate marijuana is a
waste of taxpayers' money, claimed a local advocate of marijuana use.

"Why are we still doing this?" asked Jonathan von Linden, executive director
of the Schoharie County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform
of Marijuana Laws. "This is a plant that has never killed anybody. Why don't
we just legalize and regulate it."

- ---
Checked-by: Don Beck