WARREN COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – New York State is legalizing medical marijuana, but growing pot for recreational use is still illegal.
On a clear, early fall day with near perfect flying conditions, two undercover New York State Police pilots are ready to take off. The crew is in search of something only they can spot – pot.
“We take our counter-narcotics enforcement very seriously,” Lt. Steve Stockdale with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office said.
On the ground, undercover officers from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office are on standby and tracking the chopper that’s in the air.
“It’s all a matter of timing,” Lt. Stockdale said.
The pilots guide the ground crews through the dense wooded area of the Adirondacks, which act as a sea of green camouflaging illegal grow operations.
“There’s about six million acres in Adirondack Park,” Lt. Stockdale said. “There’s a lot of places to go; a lot of places to hide.”
But it’s easy for police to spot a marijuana plant at 1,000 ft. in the air.
“It’s actually quite easy when you have your eye calibrated,” the pilot said.
With his eight years of experience and expert eye, the perfect shade of green is the needle in the haystack.
“A mature plant will give off a color unlike anything else in the natural setting,” the pilot continued said. “It’s a very iridescent green color. It will really stand out when sunlight is on the plant.”
And on this particular flight, sun was on their side.
“The THC’s the chemical that’s on the leaves that gives actual shimmer,” the pilot explained.
The first location was near Warrensburg, but police didn’t find anything. The air team flew over swamps, streams and lakes – areas that are looked at closely because the plants need water.
Thirty minutes into the flight and several locations later, some pot plants were spotted.
“You’ll see three plants,” the pilot said. “They look just like shrubs bur brighter green color.”
It was hard to spot to the untrained eye.
“Just to the left of the footbridge is where those three plants are,” the pilot continued. “You’ll see a footbridge just to the left of the footbridge. You should see plants.”
Next, the ground team moves in being careful with each step.
“Trip wires have been set up with small velocity explosives,” Lt. Stockdale said. “You can see fish hooks hanging from trees at eye level.”
But the mission was a success as multiple seizures stemmed from seeing a color unlike any other.
“A shade of green that just does not naturally occur in New York State,” the pilot said.
Twenty-six plants were cut down and stored. They were found in Lake Luzerne at homes nestled within the woods.
“It was going to get funneled through the schools,” Lt. Stockdale said. “Gonna get funneled through whoever is involved in that network.”
A small part of that network was dismantled with four arrests and a lot of pot off the streets.
“Develops into other problems, and that’s why, at least in my mind, it’s important we continue missions like this,” the pilot said.
It’s a reminder that cannabis grown for medical use is not what’s on the ground.
As for the plants that were found that day, they were dried, weighed, and then used as evidence against the growers, who police said will all be charged with possession of marijuana. They were already charged with growing it unlawfully.
State police said each flight costs a few thousand dollars. The pilot said a lot of the funding for the Counter Drugs Program comes from federal sources and seized assets.