Drug agents used airplanes to locate and destroy nearly 500 plants.

PORTLAND (AP) – This summer’s wet and warm weather has helped Maine’s marijuana farmers to produce a bigger-than-usual crop, and the weed’s proliferation has kept drug agents busy.

During the past month, Maine Drug Enforcement agents have located and destroyed nearly 500 marijuana plants in seven communities in Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties alone.

The agents used airplanes and global-positioning devices in their searches.

But even before those raids, police across the state had already destroyed 5,400 pot plants, 70 percent more than they had at the same time last year. Police said the plants would have yielded more than a ton of marijuana and been worth an estimated $4 million on the street if they had reached maturity.

Overall seizures are down from 2000, when nearly 17,000 plants were pulled. A combination of fewer police and a shift in priorities to heroin, cocaine and prescription drug abuse is has turned some of the attention away from marijuana.

“We’re pretty snowed in with heroin and crack,” said Ken Pike, supervisor of the York County MDEA office, which has three agents.

“We have our goals and objectives. Unfortunately we don’t have enough people to get by the first goal. Our main goal is to try to stop the flow of heroin and the second one is cocaine. We don’t really get past that too much,” said Pike.

Maine Drug Enforcement Director Roy McKinney acknowledged that the agency’s staff and law enforcement in general are “very finite.”

“When they’re doing eradication out in the field, they are making the decision fairly quickly: ‘Do I initiate an investigation to determine who is responsible for the criminal conduct or do I just eradicate it to get it out of the supply chain?”‘

The main idea, McKinney said, is to remove the marijuana from the supply chain before it can be distributed.

AP-ES-09-21-03 1422EDT

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