After nearly 10 years of scanning farms and parks for marijuana plants, the Maryland Marijuana Eradication Program will move its search indoors later this year.
A $25,000 device purchased with money from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) can help locate marijuana inside by detecting heat generated by lights used to grow the plants, said state police Sgt. Eugene Winters, coordinator of the program.
The machine is not foolproof, however. Because it may be confused by heat from clothes dryers or fireplaces, additional evidence will be needed before a warrant can be issued to search a home, Sergeant Winters said.
Increasing the focus on indoor cultivation this winter will be the only expected modification in the program despite a drastically reduced budget, Sergeant Winters said.
Last year's marijuana eradication program resulted in the confiscation of 11,210 plants with a potential street value of $12 million, drug enforcement officials said at a news conference yesterday near Reisterstown.
Plants were seized in all Maryland counties, Baltimore City and along the state border in Pennsylvania. Police arrested 116 people, seized 44 weapons and confiscated nearly $1 million in cash and property.
As has been the case in the past several years, the most marijuana gardens were found in Harford County, where 125 plots containing 1,093 plants were uncovered. In Anne Arundel County, 20 gardens with 851 plants were found; in Baltimore County, 59 plots with 851 plants were discovered; in Carroll, 29 gardens with 212 plants were found; and in Howard, 12 gardens containing 144 plants were located. Police found the largest number of plants in Somerset County, where they destroyed 2,342 plants.
Although some of the eradication program's most productive months are still ahead, confiscations appear to be lagging this year, Sergeant Winters said. Between Jan. 1 and May 31, a total of 1,134 plants were eradicated, 21 people arrested and $271,882 in assets seized.
The task force consists of state police, local law enforcement agencies, the DEA and members of the Maryland National Guard, which fly the helicopters used to search for the plants.
In 1991, the program's operating budget included a $199,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and an $88,000 grant from the DEA. Much of the money was used to buy equipment and defray overtime for police officers. So far this year, the program has received only $37,500 from the DEA.