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Pot war in eradication mode [IN]
    #426476 - 05/31/10 04:04 PM (6 years, 6 months ago)

Pot war in eradication mode
May 30, 2010 - courier-journal.com

NDIANAPOLIS -- After 20 years in law enforcement, Indiana State Police Sgt. Lou Perras knows this: Marijuana is the Rodney Dangerfield of illegal drugs -- it gets no respect.

In May, Perras and a team of state troopers launched their annual outdoor campaign to eradicate marijuana growing, and as in years past, this war on drugs includes combating the public's cavalier attitude toward pot.

"People have this attitude -- 'It's just marijuana,'" said Perras. "That's a sad misrepresentation of this drug."

Perras hopes his team's efforts will counteract some of the romanticism marijuana seems to enjoy. Fourteen states now allow residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes; California has a new ballot measure that would allow anyone over 21 to buy, possess, use or cultivate marijuana; and recently, The New York Times ran a story on "haute stoner cuisine" featuring celebrated author and chef Anthony Bourdain.

It's making Perras' job a little tougher this growing season, as if it isn't hard enough.

"Marijuana will grow almost anywhere," he said. "All it needs is sunlight and water."

As head of the state's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, Perras is charged with overseeing a staff of investigators devoted year-round to catching high-volume growers.

The federally funded program, paid for with assets seized from drug dealers, has gone from a seasonal to year-round effort. It now includes catching indoor cultivators, who use a combination of hydroponics and advanced horticulture techniques to grow what Perras and other law-enforcement officials say is a much more potent pot than in the past.

But this year, Perras' team is doing it with less money. His budget was cut by $250,000, about a third less than a year ago, due to a shift in federal funding. Local task forces also are facing cutbacks.

"It makes us be more resourceful and be even better stewards of taxpayers' dollars, like not using the helicopter as much and relying more on tips from citizens and other investigative techniques," said Sgt. Tony Slocum of the Indiana State Police post in Peru, a district in which state troopers, working with the program, annually find about 2,000 plants. The Peru district includes Howard, Cass, Miami, Fulton, Wabash and Tipton counties.

Fewer dollars mean tipsters are more important than ever. State police have issued news releases in recent weeks encouraging the media to publicize the Indiana State Police Marijuana Tip Line.

State police will still conduct aerial surveillance to locate plots of cultivated marijuana plants hidden in cornfields and state forests, but they'll also rely on informants like the mushroom hunters who last summer stumbled across a seedbed of marijuana plants in the middle of the Red Bridge State Recreation Area near Wabash. Some 6,000 seedlings were seized by state police.

In 2009, state police assigned to the program seized more than 37,000 cultivated plants and made more than 800 arrests.

They also seized 292 weapons during those busts, significantly more than the 182 seized during 744 arrests in 2008.

Perras said the increasing number of firearms he has seen in his 20 years assigned to the program is a reminder the growers he's after are not the stereotypical mellowed-out pot smokers of the past.

In addition to more weapons, "we're seeing a lot more damage done to the land from all the chemicals and pesticides used to cultivate plants that are a lot more potent than what was grown back in the '60s and '70s," he said.

By Indiana law, possessing or cultivating marijuana ranges from a Class A misdemeanor for a small quantity to a Class D felony for 30 grams or more to a Class C felony for amounts more than 10 pounds.


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