The D.E.A. says marijuana is also one of the most popularly used and abused drugs in the U.S., and a lot of it is grown right in Georgia. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 17, 2011)
THOMSON, Ga. -- The Georgia Governor's Task Force is trained to spot marijuana from 500 feet above ground. Trooper R.K. McNeese says so far this year, they've seized 12, 919 marijuana plants total.
Now, they're flying over our area. News 12 went along for an exclusive fly-over with the task force for drug suppression as they searched for pot.
Locate, confirm and eradicate; it's the process the Governor's Task Force lives, works and flies by. This week helicopter teams are lifting off from the Thomson McDuffie County airport, scouring the region for pot fields.
The D.E.A. says marijuana is also one of the most popularly used and abused drugs in the U.S., and a lot of it is grown right in Georgia.
Tony Hightower is a Georgia State Patrol Trooper who's flown with the marijuana eradication program for several years.
"The peak growing season is about six months long so we start the eradication program sometime around the first part of the spring and go into the fall," Hightower said. "So it's a six or seven-month ordeal."
Hightower says State Patrol, D.N.R. and the Department of Corrections band together with local agencies every year to combat what they call Georgia's serious pot problem.
"The people growing it make a lot of money. And in turn, we're trying to eradicate the problem so children don't get it in the schools, to get it off the streets," he said. "Make it as hard as we can for the guys who grow it."
News 12 flew along with air team gold, assigned to scope out Greene County. The troopers first grid out parts of the county based on anonymous tips. After that, finding the plants is just a combination of the spotters' experience and good luck.
"You can be 50 to a 100 feet or yards from marijuana and if you don't have the right angle or the right altitude, you'll miss it," said Hightower mid-flight.
After about four hours, Hightower spots a single marijuana plant just north of a deer stand.
He points out to his partner: "See it right there below us, right below us? That's probably about a 6-foot plant isn't it?"
After the team in the air confirms they've spotted marijuana, whether it's one plant or a 100, the procedure is the same. They write down GPS coordinates, then transmit that to a team on the ground.
The air team then helps guide the ground team from above through the thick vegetation.
"It's like a cat and mouse game," Hightower said. "It's a challenge for us to find it, but it's a rewarding effort for us when we do."
But is that effort worth all those resources? Worth one single plant?
"Yeah it's worth it," he said. "One plant is one plant. That's one plant that won't make it to the streets. One sometimes may seem insignificant, but one may lead to hundreds or thousands more plants."
And, he adds, each plant's market value is $3,000 on average.
McNeese says so far this year the task force has made 63 arrests. They'll eventually fly over every county in Georgia and take down every marijuana plant they spot. Since May they've seized almost $34 million worth of marijuana plants and 45 weapons, which could prevent other drug crimes.
Members of the task force are from all over the state. They are generally away from their families Monday through Friday for six or seven months.
McNeese says the hotels they stay in and many of the resources they use are not funded by tax payers but by drug dealers. The bill is paid for by the hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets they seize during the raids.
If you have concerns about marijuana being grown in or near your home, visit reportagrower.com for information on how to send in a tip anonymously.