By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Despite the upsurge in popularity of “harder” drugs such as heroin and prescription medications, an area law enforcement official said Tuesday that marijuana is still one of the most widely used and produced drugs locally.
That’s according to Otsego County Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr., who said his office is once again beginning its annual marijuana eradication efforts.
The crackdown comes after the arrest of a man who was allegedly growing a large quantity of marijuana at his home in the town of New Lisbon, according to a recent media release.
The annual initiative is a combined effort between the sheriff’s office and other agencies, Devlin said, including the Oneonta Police Department.
According to Devlin, law enforcement officers involved in the effort almost always find marijuana “grows,” as they are referred to, both indoor and outdoor.
“Every year we go out and every year we find it,” Devlin said. “It’s certainly still popular.”
Although heroin and prescription drugs have become wildly popular lately, catching individuals who grow marijuana is still a high priority, Devlin said.
“I consider it a gateway drug,” Devlin said, of marijuana.
The annual eradication efforts are scheduled in advance, Devlin said, and do not interfere with other drug busts or investigations. The initiative is being conducted over a two-week period.
Eradication of marijuana growing relies heavily on tips from the public and confidential tidbits from informants or sources, Devlin said. If there is specific information, it’s followed up by an investigation, but if the information is more vague, such as a general location or area where marijuana is believed to be grown, officers check from the air via helicopter and send in ground units to confirm and further investigate.
In July 2013, investigators from Devlin’s office received a tip that led to the June 23 arrest of the aforementioned New Lisbon man.
Deputies received information that Richard Reynolds, 59, was growing marijuana on his property at state Highway 51 in the hamlet of Garrattsville, according to the release. Pilots from the DEA Northeast Aviation Resident Office were contacted and located marijuana plants on the property during their eradication flights that year.
That August, deputies and investigators, DEA special agents, New York State parole officers and detectives from the Oneonta Police Department searched Reynolds’ property and residence and found loose processed marijuana, 39 marijuana plants, a triple-beam balance, 23 Suboxone pills, five Xanax tablets and two Oxycodone pills, the release said.
The total weight of the marijuana seized during the search was approximately 2½ pounds and was valued at more than $10,000, the release said.
This Monday, Reynolds finally surrendered himself at the sheriff’s office and was arrested by investigators for third-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a class E felony; three counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance; and unlawfully growing of cannabis by an unlicensed person, a misdemeanor under New York State Public Health Law, the release said.
If Reynolds is convicted, he will face up to 2½ years in state prison.
In an effort to catch as many “gardeners” as possible, Devlin encouraged the public to report any suspected indoor or outdoor grows to the Sheriff’s Office by calling the tip line at 547.1690. or the Criminal Investigation Division at 547.4363. All calls will be confidential, he said.
“We all know we have a huge heroin problem around here,” Devlin said. “But we can’t forget about other problematic drugs, like marijuana.”