Marijuana capital of Maryland?

July 16, 1992

With some of the state's most productive corn and hay crops, and a beautiful topiary garden that draws tourists from out of state, Harford County is home to many residents skilled at coaxing things from the earth. Some of these green-thumbs, however, would rather you didn't know their identities. They're growing marijuana.

Harford County is the state leader in this cash crop -- an ignominious honor, for sure. "We have sat back and scratched our heads for years over that one. Why Harford County?" says Sgt. Eugene Winters, who coordinates the Marijuana Eradication Program for the state police. The unit has even brought in analysts to develop grower profiles to try to solve that puzzlement.

During 1991, the eradication program, which compiles local, state and federal data, counted 45 "finds" in Harford -- a fifth of the state total. Those investigations uncovered 1,093 plants in 125 marijuana gardens and led to five arrests. The county with the next highest number of finds was much larger Baltimore County with 24. No other county listed more than 18 finds, although one uncovered garden in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore was a doozy, turning up 2,342 plants.

Some of our favorite aging hippies live in Harford, but that's not a reason police give for the county's prominence in seized marijuana plants. Sergeant Winters surmises it's a combination of the county having a lot of growing space, and a greater concentration of people than most of Maryland's other farming jurisdictions. The county also isn't far from the city and its suburbs, a prime market for the product. The cannibis cultivated these days, he adds, is 10 times more potent that the marijuana of a generation ago -- the difference between "a wine cooler and Jim Beam."

As home to a major military weapons test site and with this preponderence of marijuana growers, Harford could be the "land of boom and bust." On second thought, maybe the chamber of commerce should stick with whatever slogan it already has.

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