Local News

No arrests yet in $84 million marijuana operation

Posted June 12, 2008 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated June 12, 2008 11:42 p.m. EDT

— Harnett County sheriff's deputies are still looking for the persons who were growing 35,000 marijuana plant in woods near Broadway.

Maj. Gary McNeill said eight plots with plants ranging from 1 foot to 4 feet in height were spotted Tuesday from a plane during a marijuana eradication search.

"It's like the pilot said when they found it. He said, 'Boys, we'll get you some help,'” Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins said.

The plants have a street value of $84 million, deputies said, and were growing on private land off Womack Road.

"I've been doing this for 30 years. I've never seen an operation set up like this one was,” Rollins said.

The landowner uses the property to grow pine trees. Rollins said the landowner, who was not identified, was not aware of the marijuana operation and would not be liable.

The growers irrigated the plants by pumping water out of creeks through nearly 1,000 feet of garden hose, Rollins said.

The sheriff said the operation had been going on for at least a year and was similar to large marijuana operations in national parks in the West, where he said they are run by migrants.

“If they are Mexican nationals, they're in here, do their work, then leave. Just like migrants,” Rollins added.

He said the operation required a lot of manual labor, especially with the clearing of pine trees and with the treatment of the plants.

“They could mix the pesticides, mix the fertilizer, that sort of thing,” Rollins said.

Deputies also found fertilizers, a greenhouse manual, rodent poison and deer repellent to protect the plants from animals and insects.

Bath soap, a sponge hanging from a tree and camouflage pants were also discovered, indicating the operators may have camped on the 5-acre site.

"These things are dangerous. They've been known to have boobie traps. Fortunately, that didn't occur in this one,” Rollins said.

McNeill said the search was conducted by the sheriff's office, the Highway Patrol, the State Bureau of Investigation and the state National Guard Drug Team.

Officers uprooted and destroyed nearly all the plants.

According to a study, North Carolina is the No. 6  marijuana-producing state in the country. In 2006, almost $1 billion worth of marijuana was grown.

Over a 3-year period, marijuana was the top cash crop in the state. Tobacco, both burley and flue-cured ranked second, more than $100 million behind. Cotton is third on the list.

Marijuana is the top crop in 12 states and ranks among the top three in 30 states.