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'Bladerunner' Program Seeks Out, Destroys Marijuana Plants

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RALEIGH — Many people wonder how police find marijuana crops which are hidden in remote rural areas. They do it from the air. The "Bladerunner" program uses helicopters to spot marijuana.

The North Carolina Marijuana Eradication Task Force is made up of theNational Guardalong with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Last year, they found and destroyed 40,000 marijuana plants which they say is worth $210 million on the street.

The National Guard gave WRAL a bird's eye view of what it is like to spot marijuana from a helicopter.

"The marijuana is a certain color, and you just can't hide that," explained Lt. Brad Knight of the National Guard.

It is hard to see the plants when the helicopter is 500 feet above the ground and is rocking up and down. For the exercise, several fake plants are stuck in a patch of dirt in the middle of a kudzu field.

When you look at the same area from the ground, the plants are impossible to see.

"If you're on the ground, you could be standing three feet from it, but from the air, pot has to have sunlight, so the holes have to be made," said Knight.

Using helicopters is the best way for sheriff's departments to look for drugs in large rural areas.

"We have a very large area to cover, and the helicopter helps us do it much quicker," said John Atkins of Harnett County.

Once it is spotted, officers make their way through the thick brush, cut it down and take it out. The pilots who take part in the program say they are happy to help.

"If it is a big crop and they put a lot of time and effort to it to get it off the street, it's a good feeling," explained pilot Todd Woodward.

The helicopters generally fly during the growing season, May through September.

They look in specific areas based on tips they receive from informants. Already this year, "spotters" have located and destroyed 10,000 plants.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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