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Hard times boost pot economy

A surge in marijuana farming this year may be due to unemployment as well as growing demand for the drug.

The leaves of a marijuana plant.

Roger Alford/AP

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It's harvest time again for the marijuana plant, and US drug eradication officers are busier than usual.

An ever-tightening southern border, high unemployment, and a steady, even growing, appetite for the illicit plant have all led to a surge in marijuana acreage in the country's chief pot-growing regions, law enforcement sources say.

In the first eight months of the year, local, state, and federal police chopped down 8 million plants worth about $22 billion on the street – a 14 percent increase from last year. Seizures of the farms have nearly doubled in Washington state alone. There has been no increase in overall enforcement efforts or funding.

In recent years, domestic pot production in some parts of the US had fallen due to more anti-drug agents in helicopters scouring the prime cultivation areas, including the hillsides of southern Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest, police say. Only between 20 to 40 percent of planted pot fields are ever harvested and sold due to US enforcement actions, says the Office of Drug Control Policy.

But rising unemployment seems to have given new impetus to the industry, officials say.

Driven by tough times

Especially in east Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia, tough economic times may be motivating descendants of moonshiners to take the high risk and put spades in the earth.

Pocketing a street value of up to $2,000 per plant, a successful grower can quickly rise in local prominence – new trucks and boats popping up in poor areas are often a sign of successful cultivators, police say.


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