Captain Kelly McClendon of the Polk Sheriff’s Office said that in the two-day period, police seized 2,398 plants. With each plant being valued at an approximate $2,000 apiece, the confiscated marijuana had a reported street value of $4,796,000. (McClendon said the street value estimate is an average sale price which “depends on whether or not someone knows what they’re doing” when cultivating the marijuana. If correctly tended, some marijuana plants can easily surpass $2,000.) “We seized plants [that were] between six-inches and eight-feet tall,” said an unidentified agent of the Polk County Drug Investigation Unit.
The marijuana, he said, was later burned in front of the Polk County Public Safety Complex.
McClendon, who served as the helicopter spotter, said the July sweeps produced the largest plants to date. “Earlier in the year,” he reported, “the plants were between three- and eight-inches tall.” When asked how he differentiates between the marijuana plants and the surrounding woodland foliage, McClendon said that while it is distinct from the air, the specifics are difficult to put into words. “It’s hard to explain,” said McClendon. “It just sticks out.”
Drug agents said the majority of the seizures were contained in a specific region. “Most of the activity was in the southwest part of the county,” the agent said.
Although police discovered a number of marijuana fields, no arrests were made and none are expected in the coming weeks. “We got consent to search one house, but we didn’t find anything. There shouldn’t be any arrests in this,” the agent stated.
The problem, he said, is that relating the marijuana fields directly to the land owner is not always accurate, as many illegal farmers plant their fields on another resident’s property without their knowledge; in many instances, the land owner does not live in the state at all. “We did some tracking and either the land ownership was unknown or it was an out-of-state owner,” the agent said. “A lot of [out-of-state] people do that because it’s cheaper to buy land here and sell it later.”
The heavy downpours as of late make finding the culprits more difficult. According to police, marijuana requires a hot, wet climate. In Georgia, the cultivators will keep the plants close to a water source or leave buckets, which serve to catch the falling rain. During a normally dry Georgia summer, the cultivator must spend much more time with the plants, thus remaining closer. This year, however, there has been little worry of the marijuana wilting from the heat. “With all the rain,” the agent said, “no one had to tend to them.”
While an open field owned by an absent proprietor is a common place to find marijuana, the agent said, oftentimes, a grower will use a timber company’s property. “They’ll plant them in between the pine trees. The timber company inadvertently maintains it for them. [The offenders] try to pull the marijuana before the companies spray for weeds and kill it.”
Although the agent said finding marijuana in a timber field is common, the companies rarely tip police when the plants are discovered. “The companies don’t report it because of fear of retaliation,” he said. “They don’t want [the marijuana growers] to burn down their fields or damage their equipment.
“[Marijuana] is money to them and when it gets taken away, a lot of them want revenge.”
During many of the marijuana searches, police must be extremely careful to avoid various traps organized by the marijuana harvesters. “Sometimes,” the agent said, “they’ll hang fish hooks and things in the trees, so when you walk into them, they’ll catch you in the neck and face. Other times, they’ll have a car battery hooked up, and when you trip a wire, it shorts out and explodes, shooting acid all over the place.”
The investigation was a joint effort between the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Polk County Drug Investigation Unit, the State Patrol Aviation Division, the Civil Air Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s Task Force and members of the Rockmart Police Drug Unit.