With hot and muggy weather settled in for the season, drug enforcement officials say the climate in Georgia is perfect for people who want to grow and cash in on marijuana crops.
Deep in the Georgia mountains, growers are trying to cultivate and hide the cash crops, prompting state and federal officials to collaborate on advanced methods of uncovering those operations.
"The draw for (marijuana growers) is that Georgia's climate is most conducive to what they're used to growing to down in South America," said Eddie Williams, commander of the Georgia Governor's Task Force for Drug Suppression.
He said their operations are significantly advanced based on help they receive from the Georgia Army National Guard. Using their helicopters and their crew members, the task force flies into remote wilderness areas, where growers are most likely to try and conceal their marijuana plants.
"Last year we pulled 76,000 marijuana plants across the state with this program," said Williams. "We see a shift from year to year as to where it's going to be grown at, and who's growing it, and where they're growing it."
Their crews spend hours in the air, three or four days a week, hovering over areas where they believe they're likely to find marijuana. Spotting the crop in the middle of vast wilderness requires a year of training before going on a mission.
"When you're flying at 500 feet, or 750 feet, and able to see a marijuana plant, going 25 knots, it's an amazing skill," said Col. Ben Sartain, coordinator of the Georgia National Guard's counter drug program. He believes drug cartels are responsible for many of the marijuana crops discovered in the Georgia wilderness.
"Last year we found 40,000 plants on one grow in the Chattahoochee National Forest," he said, adding that the operation of the program is funded almost entirely by assets seized during drug raids.
The Georgia National Guard helps run marijuana discovery missions from April through October, when the growing season comes to an end.
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