CLEVELAND (AP) – A drop in the number of marijuana plants seized in Ohio in recent years can be attributed a greater push by growers to cultivate the plants indoors, according to authorities.
Investigators say they have seized $326 million in marijuana across the state since 2008. But authorities say the underground market for marijuana continues to thrive, with growers moving operations inside to avoid police, thieves and unpredictable weather, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland (http://bit.ly/1HURpHN) reports.
An agent with the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force in Chillicothe says just as much and maybe more marijuana is being produced now, even though the number of confiscated plants has dropped.
“They’re taking their product inside,” Agent Jason Park said.
Tens of thousands of the plants have been seized annually through a program run by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office. The program puts drug agents in helicopters to locate marijuana plots and signal authorities on the ground where to find the plants. This summer’s hunt begins in about six weeks.
Prosecutors and police across the state strongly support the program. But critics call it a waste of time and say only a tiny amount of the plants grown are confiscated.
Organizers are currently pushing a plan to legalize marijuana in Ohio. DeWine has said he is unsure what would happen to the eradication program if voters pass a state amendment to legalize marijuana.
“We’ll cross that bridge when, and if, we come to it,” he said.
Authorities seized more than 326,000 marijuana plants across Ohio from 2008 through 2014, with a third of those plants uprooted since 2010, but state records show a dramatic drop in the numbers since 2010.
Last year, authorities seized 31,402 plants, a fraction of the 105,121 cut down in 2010, state records show. In 2013, the numbers were even smaller, as investigators found 24,577 plants. Police chopped down slightly more than 30,000 plants each in 2011 and 2012.
Narcotics officers estimate that each plant, when mature, is worth $1,000.
It is impossible to determine how much indoor growing in done in Ohio, but investigators have noted an increase in higher-grade marijuana, which is often associated with upscale production.
Outdoor growers can sell a pound of marijuana as low as $1,200 in Ohio, the newspaper reported. But indoor growers can make $4,000 to $5,000 a pound as they seek to produce high-potency strains using advanced systems of fertilizers, hydroponic irrigation and lighting.
Investigators also say they have noticed an increase in the number of stores selling indoor growing equipment and the amount of information that informants provide about basement operations.
“It grew in the open for years around here,” said Vern Castle, a former sheriff in southern Ohio’s Athens County. “Now, people are more sophisticated. They’re hiding it inside.”
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)