Charlotte Observer, NC
Tomatoes aren't the only crop law enforcement officers expect to see this summer.
As weather conditions become favorable for growing plants, including illegal ones, narcotics officers anticipate more people growing marijuana plants outdoors.
With the increase in outdoor growing, the sheriff's office is looking for residents to help identify growing sites.
In 2005, the Union County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Bureau seized 495 marijuana plants from 10 growing operations. Four of those operations were outdoors.
Lt. Macky Goodman said outdoor growers may put marijuana plants in a variety of places, from pots on a porch to large wooded areas.
Residents can identify marijuana growing sites by the arrangement of the plants.
"Nature is random," Goodman said. "If you go out in the woods and see plants potted in a row, man did that. Nature didn't draw them in a row."
He added that growers might put the plants on someone else's property without permission, to avoid being arrested. In that case, the narcotics officers request that landowners notify the sheriff's office rather than trying to remove the marijuana plants themselves.
"I'd rather us go out there and get them because plants can be booby trapped, and I've even seen posted armed guards," Goodman said.
Marijuana plants can be identified by an odd number of fan-shaped leaves that have ridges along the sides. Other plants, such as the Texas Star hibiscus plant, have similar appearances to the marijuana plant, leading to occasional misidentifications of growing sites in the past.
Goodman recalled an instance when the narcotics bureau had received several reports of a growing site in a front yard. When the officers went to investigate, they found that the supposed marijuana plants were actually flowering hibiscus plants in the garden of an elderly woman.
Growing marijuana is a felony, and prison time is a possibility for those convicted, depending on the amount of marijuana they grew and past criminal records.
Seen a Marijuana Growing Site?
Call 704-292-2730 with information about marijuana growers. The sheriff's office will pay for information leading to the seizure of marijuana plants and arrest of growers.