Kentucky; land of bourbon, horses, and grass. Not bluegrass, mind you:
Deep in the Appalachian woods near the Knox-Bell County line, Kentucky State Police Trooper Dewayne Holden’s Humvee belched smoke and roared as it struggled up what once was an old logging trail. As his three-truck convoy stopped at a clearing atop a 3,000-foot ridge, Holden grabbed a machete and joined eight other armed troopers and National Guard members, hiking toward a hill under some power lines.
Keeping an eye out for nail pits, pipe bombs and poison-snake booby traps, they found fresh ATV tracks. The pot growers had beaten them to the prize: Gone were the 40 to 50 marijuana plants worth as much as $100,000 that Holden spotted from a helicopter more than a week earlier. Only six spindly plants were left.
According to officials at the Office of National Drug Policy’s Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), Kentucky produces more marijuana than any other state except California, making it home to one of the nation’s more intensive eradication efforts — a yearly game of harvest-time cat and mouse in national forests, abandoned farms, shady hollows, backyards and mountainsides….
Authorities say their efforts keep drugs off the streets and illicit profits out of criminal hands. But critics call it a waste of time and money that has failed to curb availability or demand. “Trying to eradicate marijuana is like taking a teaspoon and saying you’re going to empty the Atlantic Ocean,” says Gary Potter, an Eastern Kentucky University professor of criminal justice who has researched the issue for decades.
The efforts are very popular with the locals….
Many of the small towns of Eastern Kentucky, steeped in a tradition of bootlegging moonshine, also have high rates of unemployment and poverty and in some cases, public corruption, according to federal drug officials. People can make as much as $2,000 from a single plant, an often irresistible draw when good-paying jobs are scarce. Much of what is harvested is carried in car trunks to such cities as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, authorities say.
Over time, growing pot has become an “accepted and even encouraged” part of the culture in Appalachia, according to a 2006 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Still, authorities complain that in some counties it is difficult to get a jury to indict, much less convict, a marijuana grower.
Read further to see how eradication efforts have led to… a 1000% increase in domestic marijuana production over the last quarter century. When you’re reading, remember that we’re trying to do the same thing with opium in Afghanistan, and that Kentucky, at least, is blessed by the lack of a brutal insurgency capitalizing on such efforts.