LaFAYETTE, Ga. — From high above the ground, the sound of a helicopter’s rotors buzz in the distance.
Georgia Governor’s Task Force agents inside the chopper had spotted a row of marijuana plants hidden in a field of corn behind a house in Walker County. Investigators on the ground sped to the house and questioned the owner, Ken Smith. Smith was arrested later Tuesday, accused of growing 21 plants in his backyard.
The marijuana sweep is part of an annual operation where the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Suppression teams up with local law enforcement across the state.
On Tuesday, the operation targeted Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties. Smith, who faces felony charges of manufacturing marijuana, was one of several arrests local law enforcement hoped to make during the sweep.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Drug Task Force Commander Larry Black said the operation is organized locally several times during the summer and local law enforcement are grateful for the help.
“We feel like adjudicating marijuana is just as important as [other drugs],” he said. “It has ties to organized crime.”
The goal of the operation is to find the drug cartels growing large quantities of weed, often on public land, said the Governor’s Task Force commander Lt. Eddie Williams. But if agents spot a small patch, he said, they can’t ignore it.
So far this year, the task force has seized nearly 6,500 marijuana plants, made 48 arrests and seized 41 weapons across the state, Williams said.
The marijuana plants are “a cash crop,” he said. A pound of marijuana, which is about one plant, can sell for at least $2,000 on the black market, officials said.
The operational cost of the marijuana crackdown isn’t funded with tax dollars, but comes from funds seized from drug dealers in federal raids, he said. Locally, each law enforcement agency involved just provides the manpower, he said.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...