published Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Economy turns pot into a popular cash crop in Appalachia

Marijuana plants increase in Appalachia

Members of the Tennessee National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force help in February to seize marijuana plants. Appalachian states have seen an increase in marijuana production, and a federal drug official says the poor economy may be turning some people in need of money into pot growers.
Members of the Tennessee National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force help in February to seize marijuana plants. Appalachian states have seen an increase in marijuana production, and a federal drug official says the poor economy may be turning some people in need of money into pot growers.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Appalachian states have seen an increase in marijuana production, and a federal drug official said Thursday that a sour economy may have turned some people in need of cash to the clandestine crop.

Ed Shemelya, head of marijuana eradication for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's efforts in Appalachia, said helicopter spotters and ground crews found and cut more than 1.1 million plants worth some $2 billion in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia during the 2011 growing season.

That was an increase of more than 100,000 plants over 2010.

Shemelya estimated that local, state and federal authorities rooted out roughly half of the marijuana being grown in the impoverished central Appalachian region where, he said, economic woes are fueling cultivation.

"It is no secret that all three states have been adversely impacted by economic problems," he said. "The only thing that really separates them is the state line. There's not a lot of opportunity, and when things get really, really tough, people gravitate toward marijuana cultivation."

Shemelya said authorities confiscated 550,000 plants in Tennessee, 385,000 in Kentucky and 185,000 in West Virginia. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates the street value of an average mature plant at $2,000.

"It's hugely profitable, and that's why we continue to deal with it year after year," Shemelya said.

Marijuana growers in Appalachia, Shemelya said, can be hard-core criminals or hard-luck entrepreneurs supplementing their income. Most of the crops that authorities find in the region are less than 100 plants, which can easily be tended by a single grower.

The region, a haven for moonshiners during Prohibition, has a near-perfect climate for marijuana cultivation, plus remote forests that help growers to camouflage their crops.

Sociologist Roy Silver, a New York City native who has spent 30 years in central Appalachia, said several factors are at play, including the economy of a region that he said was suffering long before the national recession.

"Generally speaking, if people go to an alternative means of sustaining their family, if there's not employment opportunities, it's more likely that they turn to the illegal underground economy," Silver said.

Authorities point to stricter border controls that have made it more difficult to import pot from Mexico. They say that has pushed up demand for domestically grown marijuana at a time when law enforcement authorities are being pinched by budget cuts.

Shemelya said investigators were being told early in the year that growers believed those budget cuts would mean fewer spotters in the air over Appalachia and fewer cutters on the mountainsides, making this an opportune time for growers to plant.

"All the law enforcement agencies of the three states are feeling the fiscal impacts of our economy," he said. "And I am amazed by the quality of work that's being done. We do our very best to get everything, and work diligently to find it, identify who is cultivating it, and arrest those we can."

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Rtazmann said...

WELL WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THAT IF POT IS THAT BIG OF A MONEY CROP ELSEWHERE,, WHAT MAKES YOU THINK IT WOULDN'T BE HERE...THE MARKET IS THERE,,,,IT IS NOT LIKE FACING BANKRUPTCY 6 MONTHS DOWN THE ROAD,,IT IS A WEED FOR GODS SAKES.LOOK AT ALL THESE BUSTS RECENTLY,,,,,IMAGINE THAT MONEY GOING INTO THE TREASURY RATHER THAN BE BURNED.

December 11, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.
nucanuck said...

We say we want more jobs, so legalize and control pot and drug use. Those who are going to use drugs...will. Let drugs happen without the worldwide narco/crime industry that comes with it. Don't fill our prisons with drug abusers. Offer help to those who seek help, but leave the rest to their own personal support systems.

The war on drugs was never winnable, never worth fighting. It has brought unimaginable crime and corruption at all levels of American society.

Time has come to legalize.

December 11, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.
holdout said...

I believe that it will never be legalized because it is simply too easy to grow and use. The government can't be sure of getting their cut so they just keep it illegal. It would make more economic and medical sense to ban alcohol and legalize marijuana. And really does anyone have the right to control what you put into your own body as long as it doesn't adversely affect the people around you?

December 11, 2011 at 1:27 p.m.
Jemmy said...

Time to legalize it. Much less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. The Obama administration has been much less 'big government' on this issue than than the Bush administration, but still, people are going to jail for something that is no crime at all. Free individuals should be able to make their own decisions about what they grow for themselves and smoke for themselves.

December 11, 2011 at 5:16 p.m.
brokentoe said...

Tennessee use to legally grow Poppy, why not MaryJ? In fact, wild Poppy flowers can still be seen growing from time to time alongside roads and drainage ditches.

December 11, 2011 at 5:25 p.m.
maryjanicep said...

Should have never been illegal in the first place and wasn't until 1938. Great as medicine for many problems and many people have no insurance and no money for meds. Alcohol has no real med benifits is addictive pot is not, destorys families, kills, etc but it is legal. Crazy laws crazy country we have. Legalize it and tax it and pay off the deficit while putting mexican drug lords out of business.

December 11, 2011 at 6:24 p.m.
whatsthefuss said...

If America is interested in stopping the human carnage on the US Mexican border the best policy adopted would be to legalize the wacky tabacky. It would also remove a great burden from the taxpayer in the form of less police, court costs and jail expenses. Imagine putting someone in jail for weed? Talk about Dead Heads!

December 11, 2011 at 6:26 p.m.
trumpet123 said...

Think about this...You already have idiots driving around drunk. Do you really want to add marijuana to the mix??

December 11, 2011 at 8:59 p.m.
Rtazmann said...

YOU HAVE GOVERNMENT LYING ABOUT THE NUMBERS AND THE MEDIA GRANDSTANDING TO GET THEIR STORY...MAINSTREAM AMERICA SAYS WE ARE READY FOR LEGALIZATION BUT AGAIN GOVERNMENT AND MEDIA DISAGREE WITH FACT,,THIS SHOULD GO TO THE VOTERS..I CAN TELL YOU THE NEXT OCCUPY WILL BE OVER MARIJUANA,,,,,WHEN YOU HAVE 16 STATES SAYING YES IT WON'T BE LONG FOR THE MAJORITY TO JOIN IN,,AND FOR YOUR INFO YOU ALREADY HAVE POT HEADS AND KIDS SMOKING IT ANYWAY..PUTTING A BAND-ADE ON THE PROBLEM WILL NOT FIX IT..

January 12, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.
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