A task force under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky State Police (seen here in their natural, helicopter-rappelling environment) spends more than $1 million in federal grant money each year to apprehend a small number of suspects, records show.
According to data obtained from the KSP via an open records request, the agency’s Marijuana Suppression Unit spends an annual sum of $1.2 million in federal grants awarded by the Drug Enforcement Agency to further its mission of “providing specialized support to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the area of domestic cannabis eradication and suppression activities,” according to its website.
In 2012, the unit issued a total of 42 citations and made a mere eight arrests despite a massive budget that includes renting a helicopter to identify grow sites and, if needed, para-transport officers into the weed-soaked hollers of Eastern Kentucky. The rental fees associated with the helicopter were, in 2012 numbers, nearly $900,000; travel and supplies cost $2,309 and $13,841, respectively; and nearly a quarter-million was paid in overtime.
The number of arrests excludes arrests made by other agencies, each with their own budgetary allocation in furtherance of the cause of weed prohibition. So far, we’re unable to determine how far the grants go back, other than data we’ve obtained for 2011, which remained more or less consistent with the numbers for 2012.
Breaking the numbers down further, the total cost per arrest for the unit in 2012 was $156,421 (out of a budget total of $1,2 million for that year). The figures obviously exclude other, often hidden taxpayer costs central to the War on Drugs, such as court and processing fees, in addition to the cost of jailing illegal pot growers unlucky enough to get swept up in the KSP’s multi-million dollar dragnet. And, as is often overlooked, there’s the unrealized profitability of some 400,000 destroyed marijuana plants, which pro-pot advocates estimate to fetch upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered revenue.
With a vested interest in continuing the United States’ sisyphean
war on people of color drug war in order to justify such bloated budgets and costly gadgets, the KSP, like many law enforcement agencies, has emerged as a prominent critic of recent efforts in the state legislature to lay a framework for the cultivation of industrial hemp and legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky — both of which enjoy solid support statewide, according to new polling data.
At a recent hearing on an industrial hemp bill backed by state Agricultural Commissioner James Comer that drew national attention, KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer repeated a familiar talking point that was swatted down by former C.I.A. director, R. James Woolsey, who spoke at the hearing.
From the New York Times:
Rodney Brewer, the commissioner of the Kentucky State Police, said that if hemp farming were legal, marijuana growers would hide their plants in hemp fields and the police could not tell them apart.
“They are identical in appearance when it comes to the naked eye,” Mr. Brewer said, predicting that legalizing hemp would create a boom for pot growers.
But Mr. Woolsey, who said he favored hemp because of “my interest in prosperity for rural America,” argued that no pot farmer would hide plants in a hemp field for fear that low-potency hemp would cross-pollinate with marijuana and lower the concentration of THC, its psychoactive ingredient.
Marijuana growers “hate the idea of having industrial hemp anywhere near,” he said.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Brewer is right on the money, then why not let loose like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now if you got the hardware and budget built exactly for such a scenario?
Here’s what the branch has to say about itself, in a July 2012 press release announcing their “outdoor campaign:”
(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — The KSP Cannabis Suppression Branch launched their annual outdoor campaign to eradicate cultivated marijuana with a two-day training including aerial spotting and repel techniques, GPS land navigation, ATV training, and booby trap awareness.
Lt. Brent Roper, a twenty-one year veteran of KSP and current commander for the Cannabis Suppression Branch, is charged with overseeing the training and coordinating the summer seasonal campaign to catch high volume growers.
“We take this operation very serious and for that reason, provide our teams with the best training available to keep them safe while eradicating large number of plants,” says Roper.
Roper says the seasonal enforcement campaign is a multi-agency operation including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Appalachia HIDTA, US Forestry Service, National Guard, US Marshal Service and KSP.
In 2011, Kentucky marijuana suppression teams eradicated nearly 400,000 outdoor pot plants from over 5,000 plots resulting in 371 arrests.
“One fully developed pot plant can be processed into one pound of street packaged marijuana,” adds Roper. “A one-pound unit will sell for approximately $2,000.”
KSP teams removed nearly $800 million dollars worth of outdoor pot in 2011.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) funded marijuana eradication operations in the US that removed 6.2 million outdoor plants resulting in 8,501 arrests and seizure of 42.1 million dollars of cultivator assets. The program also removed 5,181 weapons from cannabis cultivators.
Roper sees marijuana as an avenue to finance trade for other illicit substances and drug-trafficking enterprises.
“Marijuana is definitely a cash crop in Kentucky and what some people don’t understand is that these funds are assisting in illegal trade operations of other dangerous drugs,” says Roper.
According to the KSP website, the top ten counties for outdoor marijuana eradication in 2011 (by plant numbers) were Wayne, Knox, Bell, Lee, Knott, Casey, Monroe, Pike, Harlan and Leslie counties.
“Through our website, we provide the total number of marijuana plants eradicated in each Kentucky County,” adds Roper. “This gives citizens an opportunity to see what is going on in the communities where they live.”
The link for this page is http://www.kentuckystatepolice.org/cann_supp_branch.htm
KSP is encouraging the public to get involved with the seasonal campaign by calling their toll free hotline at 1 (800) DOPE-TIP. Callers can remain anonymous all tips are investigated.
The KSP’s Cannabis Suppression Branch is in lockstep with similar task forces across the country, supported nationally by a coterie of interest groups and pensioned agencies and unions, forming a house of cards atop of which sits the White House, whose commitment to the drug war has set a bellicose tone over President Obama’s first term.
In toto: More blood for the blood god. A spending algorithm hosted by Drug Sense puts it into perspective:
With these kind of diminishing returns, it’s little wonder why the issue finds such bipartisan support, linking state politicians like U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
At the very least, this kind of militaristic, big budget prohibition makes for good cannon fodder. It’s just unclear if the war they’re fighting is even real enough to justify going full retard with more of the country’s lives and treasure.
(As an addendum, the KSP did not, in its response to LEO’s records request, provide information on the supposed hundreds of individuals arrested last year by the suppression unit, nor did it provide information about the charges levied against those individuals.)