Large pot bust generates debate

Judging from the reaction to a large marijuana seizure by local law enforcement in the past few days, the measure going before Ohio’s voters in November that would legalize the sale and use of that drug in the state is likely to generate some heated debate.

On Friday, officers from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation uncovered a large marijuana grow operation at 1301 Harding Way E in Galion. The discovery was made during a routine aerial patrol for the drug, which Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent said local officials perform twice a year across the county.

Authorities found and confiscated 3,446 marijuana plants countywide, which the sheriff said will be destroyed, including about 400 plants at the Harding Way East address.

“This was a bit more than usual,” he said.

One man was reportedly arrested for obstructing justice, but it was still unclear Tuesday afternoon what charges will be filed. County Prosecutor Matthew Crall said the marijuana plants have to dry before they can be weighed. Possession of less than 200 grams of the drug is a misdemeanor.

As soon as the sheriff’s office posted the news of the pot bust on its Facebook page, which was shared on the Facebook page of the Galion Police Department, the comments multiplied.

“You guys ripped out some harmless plants, congratulations. What a good use of our tax dollars. Marijuana has killed zero people. Go after meth labs or ... something that actually harms people,” Michael Christenson wrote.

Matthew James Dio was even more critical.

“Why don’t they put that effort and taxpayer expense into going after the actual hard drugs that are destroying the area? Wait, because weed is easy. Along with traffic stops and speed traps. Almost no effort or danger involved. Crawford County is dying and law enforcement is a part of the problem,” he wrote.

Opinions of the pot bust, however, appeared to be split about 50-50 on social media.

“I am grateful to these officers for protecting our community and children. I have worked at several agencies and have seen the powerful hold drugs have on people,” Susan Thew Smith wrote.

Amanda Nowak, writing on the sheriff’s Facebook page, characterized marijuana as a gateway drug.

“Keep in mind this substance runs around your county schools so when your child is doing it at 8 years old, turns to heroin as a teen because the high from pot isn’t enough, and ODs (and) can’t be revived, you all just remember this post,” she said.

“The helicopter wasn’t ours, and the manpower was mostly volunteers. It is still an illegal substance, so we’re still doing eradication,” Kent said.

The helicopter was provided by the BCI, while sheriff’s deputies removed the plants on the ground. Also assisting in the countywide operation were the police and fire departments of Bucyrus and Galion, the county prosecutor’s office, the Adult Parole Authority, and METRICH.

Marijuana plants, which are often planted in fields of corn, unbeknownst to the farmer who cultivates the field, are easier to spot from a plane in late summer and early fall, as they don’t dry out as quickly as the surrounding corn.

Friday’s marijuana seizure also capped off a busy week that saw eight people arrested in Crawford County, most of them on drug charges related to heroin, cocaine and prescription opioids, after raids on houses in Galion, Bucyrus and Crestline.

Through Aug. 12, the county prosecutor’s office had handed down 176 felony drug indictments, already well above the total for all of last year, 145. Most crimes related to marijuana are misdemeanors.

“Since we have the jail here, we have a lot of time to talk to the inmates, and the heroin and opiate addicts all tell us they got started on marijuana,” Kent said.

Originally published in the News Journal on August 26, 2015.

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