Informant Tips About Marijuana Grow-Ops Declining

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    Marijuana Tips Declining
    by Thomas Brown, T&D Staff Writer, (10 Jul 2006) Times and Democrat South Carolina
    Officers Say Seizures Down As Fewer People Report Plants

    Local law enforcement officials know marijuana is being grown in the Orangeburg area, and are concerned that they are getting fewer tips reporting the plants.

    Lt. Todd Williams of the Selective Enforcement Division of the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office said information on marijuana growth has been diminishing for some time.

    "We started noticing about two years ago that we were not getting as many tips on marijuana grows," Williams said. "Last year this time, we had confiscated more than 100 plants. This year, we're just under 50. We know that marijuana is still being grown in the area, but our problem is the indoor growers."

    Williams said law enforcement depends solely on informants to report the indoor growers. He said officials will get tips from utility companies when they notice a sudden spike in a customer's electricity use.

    "When we get that information, we get suspicious because indoor growers have to use growth lamps all the time when they're growing marijuana indoors," Williams said. "That's why the utility company sees the spike in electricity. Growth lamps use a lot of electricity."

    Williams said he has found marijuana growing in fields, in gardens, in pots outside and some growers will even use other people's property for the crop.

    "And they love to grow it in state parks," Williams said. "But when they grow it outdoors, it's easy to spot because marijuana has to have sunlight. So the growers have to clear any other plants from around it that might block the sun. We go on marijuana eradication flights with the State Law Enforcement Division and occasionally we fly with the RAID ( Retaliation Against Illegal Drugs ) Team from the National Guard."

    The marijuana confiscated in the Orangeburg area is generally commercial grade, Williams said. It has tetrahydrocannabinol level of above six percent and the plants are usually five to eight feet tall. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC and the higher the percentage, the more potent the effect.

    "THC is a schedule I drug," Williams said. "That means that it has no acceptable medical use in this state and has a high potential for abuse.

    "We generally find about a dozen plants here and there. We haven't found a large grow in a long time. Last year, we found 200 plants in one grow. That was a big find. When we find an outdoor grow, we collect the plants and get Global Positioning System coordinates on the grow to try to find out who planted them."

    Williams said one marijuana plant can yield up to a pound of salable product and one pound of marijuana has a street value ranging between $500 and $1,000. He said it is still one of the most accessible street drugs.

    Growing marijuana is called manufacturing marijuana and is classified as a felony. On the first offense, a grower can get up to five years in prison. The second offense carries a penalty of up to 10 years and the third carries a mandatory sentence of five to twenty years.

    "Growing even one plant is a felony," Williams said. "And because of the nature of the business, we do depend heavily on tips from informants. We want people to understand that marijuana is a dangerous drug. Most heavy drug users started out using marijuana. That alone makes it dangerous.

    Williams said the anonymity of informants is protected. And he urges anyone having any knowledge of someone growing marijuana to call either the Sheriff's Office or CrimeStoppers.

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