|Pot: The Cash Crop King|
Posted by FoM on May 15, 2000 at 10:30:52 PT|
By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press
Source: Kentucky Post
When Mike Roution's paycheck from Pizza Hut couldn't support his lifestyle, he moved his marijuana growing operation inside.
The pot he cultivated in his Taylor County attic was soon netting $165,000 every three months. He had a wallet full of cash and a way to support his cocaine habit.
''Then, it was the best feeling,'' Roution said matter-of-factly in an interview from inside the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange while wearing a ''Dad'' T-shirt from his 13-year-old daughter.
''You've got power. You've got everything,'' he said.
In a 65-county region that includes Taylor County and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, Roution is not alone in his quest for big money by turning to marijuana. More than 40 percent of the nation's pot supply comes from this primarily Appalachian area - or an estimated 1.6 million outdoor plants annually worth $3.9 billion.
In Kentucky last year, about 500,000 plants worth an estimated $1.3 billion were eradicated by authorities, and the number not found is anyone's guess, said Lt. Shelby Lawson, marijuana suppression coordinator for the Kentucky State Police.
In comparison, Kentucky's farmers made about $720 million from the sale of tobacco - by far the state's leading legal crop - said Bill Brannen, deputy state statistician.
Pot is the No. 1 crop in a region with unemployment rates that often exceed 20 percent and average household incomes range from $5,000 to $8,000, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Many local Appalachian economies reap the economic benefits of the pot sales.
For Roution, the marijuana led to trouble. He's now nearing the end of a five-year prison sentence after being caught with 185 plants. While he's been behind bars, his wife, a Head Start teach er, filed for divorce, and he's been unable to take care of his dying grandmother.
''I was one of the people who would've told you that marijuana is the best drug in the world,'' Roution said.
''It's all right, it will never cause problems. I was one of them people. Now I know the adverse affects of it.''
Appalachia has the characteristics of its Third World drug-producing counterparts, said Richard R. Clayton, a University of Kentucky professor who wrote a report for the United Nations titled ''Marijuana in the 'Third World': Appalachia, USA.''
''You've got a perfect climate for drug production and cultivation in eastern Kentucky because you've got that large level of unemployment, you've got insularity, and you've got a need for cash,'' Clayton said.
So, while the rest of the nation prospers, the region's persistent poverty and lack of high-paying jobs combined with an ideal growing climate feeds the illegal industry. Appalachia's rugged terrain provides a shield that blocks the view of pot plants - each worth a street value of about $2,000 - that sometimes tower 20 feet in the air.
''It's tremendously profit able,'' said Joseph L. Famularo, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Kentucky.
''The price is just phenomenal. Kentucky marijuana is very prized, especially in the Northeast United States.''
The 65-county region became the Appalachian HIDTA - High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area - in 1998. The designation means $6 million annually in federal funding is used to help coordinate law-enforcement agencies. Since its formation, law enforcement agencies have recorded 1,952 arrests and eradicated 5,703 marijuana plots.
Some say it's the moonshiners and their kin of yesteryear who have traded in their illegal liquor sales for more-profitable marijuana. While the product might have changed, the cat-and-mouse game between growers and law enforcement officials can still get personal.
''I've been told I'm taking Christmas away from the kids and food away from them. I've heard it all,'' said Harold Sizemore, supervisory law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service.
Sizemore said he's arrested engineers and even retired teachers for pot cultivation.
''There's no one set of class of people doing this,'' Sizemore said.
Wheeler Jacobs, sheriff in Knott County where more pot plants - 64,730 - were eradicated last year than any other Kentucky county, said it is not uncommon for him to arrest friends or acquaintances.
''With marijuana growing, nothing surprises you,'' Jacobs said. ''Who's growing it and who's selling in, you're not surprised.''
The growers vary in involvement.
''You've got some that are fairly organized like corporations,'' Clayton said. ''And you've got some that are just mom-and-pop organizations, although they're not mom and pop, it's probably Joe and Jim and maybe Judy.''
Sometimes, the lure leads to public corruption.
Freddie White, the drug-dog handler for the Perry County sheriff's office, pleaded guilty in February to possession with the intent to distribute marijuana as well as other drug charges. Johnny Mann, former Lee County sheriff, is serving a 24-year federal sentence for a 1991 conviction for accepting bribes to protect marijuana and cocaine smuggling.
Law enforcement officers acknowledge that millions of dollars are generated into legitimate businesses each year from pot sales.
In 1990, after 100,000 plants were eradicated in Leslie County, there were widespread stories of grocery stores and car dealerships nearly going bankrupt, Sizemore said.
The cultivators are ''quite frankly, very wealthy,'' Famularo said, owning ''four-wheel drive trucks ... ATVs ... They usually have expensive toys.''
The economic dependency leads some neighbors to turn their backs to the problem. ''It's easier to not get involved,'' Clayton said.
Growers will sometimes stand guard at patches with firearms, or even place explosives or animal traps around the plants.
Public lands are popular places to plant marijuana patches. By planting on government property, growers avoid forfeiture laws and make it more difficult to track the grower. In Kentucky's Boone National Forest, 192,685 plants worth $384 million were eradicated last year.
It makes it dangerous for forest visitors, Sizemore said.
Roution said pot cultivators often carry firearms and steal each other's pot.
''You stumble onto someone's crop in the middle of the field, you're liable to get shot, put in the ground, and nobody would ever see you again,'' Roution said.
In 1994, three Eastern Kentucky men were killed by what authorities say were their own booby traps at a marijuana patch in Breathitt County. The explosion left 3-foot-deep craters.
''The repercussions of it, the tragedy and all the stuff that goes with the drug trade, it's by no means romantic or glamorous. It's a nasty, rotten business,'' Famularo said.
Pot Busts: Notable Marijuana Cases in Northern Kentucky in 1999:
July 4: A tip to the Grant County sheriff's office led to a hidden field of uncultivated pot valued at $1.3 million.
July 14: An Owen County deputy sheriff investigating a vandalism complaint ended up finding pot worth an estimated $1.5 million growing near a tobacco field.
Aug. 2: 350 pounds of pot with an estimated street value of $700,000 were seized from a truck on Interstate 75 in Grant County. Investigators believe they broke up a ring that delivered pot from Mexico north along I-75.
Cannabis & Drug Policy Information:
Marijuana Thrives in Appalachias Depressed Economy
|Comment #1 posted by steve1 on May 15, 2000 at 18:17:21 PT|