Low-flying helicopters seen around Bulloch and adjacent counties recently may be part of the effort by the Georgia Governor’s Drug Suppression Task Force to find plots of marijuana.
Last week, the crew spotted a field of plants growing near Cobbtown in Candler County. Task force agents contacted the Candler County Sheriff’s Office, which responded and arrested Richard Anthony Warren, 61, of Cobbtown, on charges of manufacturing marijuana, said Candler County Sheriff John Miles.
Agents found more than 900 immature plants in a field off Highway 121 South near Donnell Road in Candler County, near the Candler/Tattnall county line, he said.
“They were small, still growing,” he said.
While he didn’t list an estimated street value of the find, Miles said marijuana plants can yield $1,000 to $2,000 each.
Warren was taken to the Candler County Jail to await bond and other hearings.
The Georgia Governor’s Drug Suppression Task Force is comprised of agents from five state agencies: the Georgia State Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Community Supervision (Parole/Probation), the Georgia Motor Carrier Compliance Division and the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Unit. The GSP oversees the program, said Capt. Keith Canup, public information spokesman for the agency.
“To date, we have confiscated approximately 7,000 plants statewide, and we are less than halfway through the season,” he said. “We have made approximately 35 arrests related to manufacturing marijuana.”
Agents from each group are “detached from each agency during the grow season, and personnel returns to normal duties with their agency during the winter, non-grow season,” he said.
Funded by the Federal Department of Justice with asset forfeiture funds seized nationwide from the illegal drug trade, the effort “primarily focuses on eradication of locally grown cannabis, both indoor and outdoor grow sites,” he said.
Residents of Bulloch, Candler, Screven, Jenkins and Emanuel counties may have noticed the low-flying helicopters in the area over the past few weeks. Canup said the task force “travels around the state and conducts aerial searches, utilizing between four and seven helicopters weekly.”
“The unit is self-contained and travels with a fuel truck, a command bus and four ground-arrest teams that are equipped with four-wheel-drive trucks,” he said. “The ground-team trucks pull trailers that haul both Polaris Ranger ATVs and four-wheelers for deep-woods recovery.”
The Governor’s Task Force usually covers up to 20 counties weekly, he said.
“Our goal is to provide services to local law enforcement agencies, at no cost, that couldn’t otherwise afford the equipment and manpower to conduct the searches,” Canup said. “We search coordinates provided by local enforcement agencies that are suspected points of interest, in addition to open-air searches.”
While marijuana legalization is a popular topic nationwide, law enforcement has often found that the illegal marijuana market is connected in many cases to other crimes such as “stolen vehicles, stolen heavy equipment, stolen/illegal guns and other illicit items including cash derived for the drug trade, which we often recover during our searches,” he said.
“Whether people agree or disagree with the legality issues surrounding marijuana, it is currently illegal in Georgia according to federal and state statute and is still classified as a schedule 1 drug by the federal government,” Canup said.
If Georgia did not participate in the program, the state would not receive federal funds, and services provided to local agencies would also be unavailable, he said.
Anyone with information about a suspected grow site is asked to contact their local sheriff’s department, he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.