HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Amateur Pilots Helping Police In Marijuana Scout
Pubdate: Thu, 08 Aug 2002
Source: Chatham This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 Bowes Publishers Limited
Author: Peter Epp


For the second consecutive year, Crime Stoppers program will be actively 
engaging aviation enthusiasts in Chatham-Kent's war on drugs.

George Sanderson, a co-ordinator for Crime Stoppers, confirms that the 
program is reaching out to the local aviation community to help law 
enforcement agencies locate marijuana that has been planted in the middle 
of cornfields or at the edges of bushlots.

Entitled Operation Pot Spot, aviation enthusiasts are being asked to keep 
their eyes peeled while flying over Chatham-Kent. In some cases, amateur 
pilots are deploying global positioning systems (GPS) to precisely map 
marijuana plantations. Police later use the GPS co-ordinate to find the 
plantation and have it destroyed.

The additional eyes in the skies have paid off, Sanderson says. Police have 
been informally using amateur pilots to scout marijuana for about the last 
four years, and since that time about $2.5 million in marijuana has been 
located in Chatham-Kent and subsequently destroyed.

"It's made a huge difference," he tells Chatham This Week. "The police use 
their own aircraft, but it makes a difference if we can also use the 
services of aviation enthusiasts. We're not asking they make a special 
trip; we're just asking them to keep their eyes open while they're up in 
the sky."

And August represents a perfect opportunity for pot spotting. Sanderson 
says marijuana plants are reaching their maturity and are becoming easier 
to be observed from the air.

And he anticipates that Chatham-Kent's marijuana crop will be exceptional 
this year.

"Marijuana is a bit like corn, in that it loves hot weather and lots of 
rain, and we've had a lot of hot weather, and in the last two weeks, we've 
had good rain. So I expect that these plants are growing and developing 
exceptionally well."

Sanderson adds that marijuana cultivation in Chatham-Kent is usually 
successful because of the region's excellent growing conditions. 
"Chatham-Kent grows some of the best legitimate crops in Canada and, 
unfortunately, Chatham-Kent also grows some of the best marijuana."

Those growing marijuana in Chatham-Kent's farm fields typically plant the 
seedlings after a farmer has sown corn, and the corn is in its early stage 
of development. Usually what happens is that the marijuana grower will walk 
to the middle of a corn field, rip out some of the corn stalks, and 
re-cultivate the area with marijuana. At the time, the farmer is unaware of 
what's happening, unless he spies a strange vehicle parked at the edge of 
the road. But Sanderson says the planting operation usually occurs at night.

He notes the marijuana is usually allowed to grow unattended. The "owner" 
of the illegal plants may make a visit once a month. But the harvest begins 
to loom in late August and early September, since the illegal grower wants 
to harvest his or her marijuana before the corn is taken off. Sanderson 
says Chatham-Kent's marijuana harvest is usually complete by mid-September.

Sometimes legitimate harvest conditions are exceptional and the corn is 
harvested earlier. When that happens - as it did in early September 2000 - 
farmers usually find large tracts of marijuana.

"Two years ago the harvest was very early, and I suppose it caught the 
illegal growers off guard," Sanderson says. "We had a lot of calls from 
farmers that year, calling to tell us that they had found some marijuana in 
their fields."

Crime Stoppers estimates the value of a single marijuana plant at about 
$1,000. In 1999, an amateur pilot led police to a field where over 100 
plants were discovered and subsequently destroyed.
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