Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Southeastern Kentucky has become less favorable for marijuana growers

By some estimates, Kentucky is still No. 2 in marijuana production, exceeded only by much larger California, but the legal and cultural climate for the crop in the state's most popular growing area has become less favorable, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Estep's chief example is southeastern Kentucky pot grower J.C. Lawson, who bragged to the newspaper almost 20 years ago that he made $1 million in a few months and employed 20 people, bringing jobs and money to impoverished Clay County. "Lawson is still a symbol, but of a world and a war that is much different than 20 years ago," Estep writes. "The drug problem is worse in some ways, the war against it has escalated, and Lawson is headed to federal prison."

When pot became big business, some local officials took payoffs to protect the trade, and "The acceptance of marijuana growing colored local justice systems, according to some authorities who thought they couldn't get a meaningful conviction in some counties," Estep reports. But for the last 10 years, the region has been part of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal designation that brings money and other resources to bear on the growers. Map shows that the HIDTA was recently expanded to include Hamilton and Washington counties in Tennessee and Letcher County, Ky., where The Mountain Eagle reported the move "should help local law enforcement agencies to secure more federal funding for the efforts to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations." Also, for the last five years, southeastern Kentucky has had a special, federally funded anti-drug program, Operation UNITE, courtesy of Rep. Hal Rogers, a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee.

"Attitudes about drugs have evolved as well, in large part because of abuse of powerful prescription pills, unavailable in the late 1980s, that have brought misery and death to many families," writes Estep. "People who said little or nothing about marijuana cultivation in 1987 now work to promote awareness of drug abuse and keep track of how cases are handled." (Read more)

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