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Athens reacts to recent bust of 47 pounds of marijuana

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Athens, Ohio, being the diverse town that it is, has an unsurprisingly high variation of opinions on marijuana, the persecution of its users and its legality. Thus, Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly and his Narcotics Enforcement Team’s recent confiscation of 47 pounds of homegrown marijuana — a total that is worth approximately $200,000 — was bound to spark discussion.

The bust led to the arrest of Donald Gribbet, 44, who used a residence on Lafollette Road to grow the illegal substance on Sept. 10, according to the Sheriff’s Department website.

Kelly was not surprised to find such a large amount of marijuana.

“About this time during the year is when many of the harvests are starting to come in,” Kelly said. “It’s not uncommon to find bigger grow operations in the fall.”

In fact, Athens County, as well as the entire region of Southeast Ohio, is notorious for growing both large quantities and high qualities of the drug.

“This area has always been noted for its very good strands of marijuana,” according to Kelly.“Some choose to grow outside in fields, others tend to go inside grows, which have become more common. They’re more difficult to detect.”

The recent drug bust was an indoor grow. When asked how it was detected, Kelly revealed that the police had the help of “a confidential informant.”

Kelly said he and the police department will continue to deal with drug related crime in the same manner as they always had.

“Since I’ve taken office in 2009, I’ve had a three approach way of dealing with the drug problem.” He listed the three approaches as enforcement (drug busts), education (teaching children in schools) and prevention (including treatment).

Although Kelly believes marijuana usage to be a problem, he believes other narcotics take a higher priority.

“I would say marijuana is not our major problem. The major problem we have is with heroin and methamphetamine,” Kelly said.

In addition, Kelly mentioned prescription pill abuse is “absolutely” a bigger drug problem in Athens County than marijuana. Prescription pills are legal, “until someone decides to sell their pills, or trade their pills.” At that point, the police may intervene.

Marijuana still remains an extremely profitable business venture for growers in Athens County, however.

“A pound of pot, you can buy for $1500 to $2000 here,” Kelly said. Once grown or bought here, “You can take it to a larger city and get anywhere up to $6000 a pound.”

Among the larger cities that buy Athens marijuana, Kelly listed Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis.

“If it’s good pot—if it’s anything like the stuff we got the other day—absolutely it will go for five to six thousand a pound,” Kelly said. “This stuff was very good pot. If you grabbed the bud, your fingers would stick to it.”

Marijuana is a criminal offense in Ohio, meaning the police have an obligation to devote resources to drug busts such as this recent 47 pound seizure. However, Kelly expressed changes to the department should marijuana become legal.

“If the law changes, then we would not have to spend as much resources on marijuana than we have in the past . . . It would be just like alcohol. It would be controlled,” Kelly said.

The future of any legislation to legalize marijuana seemed to be questionable, according to Kelly.

“I see possibly medicinal purposes [for marijuana] being legalized . . . I don’t see recreational use anytime soon,” Kelly said. “I don’t think the state’s ready for that yet. I see the statistics that say that they have done polls that people are in favor of marijuana legalization, but I think they’re checking the wrong polls.”

As to whether or not it would be a good idea for Ohio to lax its marijuana laws, Kelly said “That’s not for me to decide. That is for our legislators to decide.”

City officials were hesitant to offer any opinion on the subject.

“I really haven’t formed an opinion. I would have to have more information,” City Council President Jim Sands said.

“We do read reports of medical marijuana being perhaps a help to people in some limited medical circumstances,” At-Large Chris Knisely said. “I’d at least be interested in people being able to bring it to the ballot if there was sufficient interest. But I’m personally not decided yet.”

Mayor Paul Wiehl also abstained from offering an opinion on marijuana prohibition.

“I really don’t know the status of punishments that are out there for various infractions, so I couldn’t say whether they’re egregious or not,” Wiehl said. “I haven’t really studied it. It’s not really on my radar most of the time, unfortunately.”

Regarding efforts to put medical marijuana on the ballot, Wiehl believes there could be many aspects to any petition.

“It would be intriguing to to see what happens,” Wiehl said. “Do you add yet another drug to the spectrum of legal drugs? Is that a good thing or bad thing? Do you create a culture of drug use or social drug use? In other words drug use or drug abuse? There’s a school of thought that says there’s use and there’s abuse and how to distinguish one from the other. And the same thing applies to alcohol. Prohibition [of alcohol] didn’t work, obviously.”

Athens residents and Ohio University students were not as reluctant to give their opinions on marijuana laws.

“It should be legalized … too many resources are spent on it,” Curt Wholsapple, owner of Little Professor Book Center said.

“I can’t believe that much drug activity is going on under our noses … We should get more cops out there, or legalize it, structure it. Do something,” Athens resident Jennifer Rood said.

“I generally don’t really care, I guess,” Luke Longanbach, Ohio University student said. “There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be legal . . . That’s a lot of money wasted on something that is a very, very little problem.”

Two first-year graduate students, Allison Dubois and Ricky Hopkins both offered similar sentiments, believing it a good thing for police to target those who violate drug laws.

“I’m against [the legalization of marijuana],” Hopkins said. “I just graduated from school in San Francisco, where they did legalize marijuana, and I don’t like that.”

“I am torn on the issue [of legalization],” Dubois said.

Emily Hehnen, OU sophomore, was surprised that such a large amount of marijuana was being grown in Athens County.

“That amount is just kind of shocking . . . I just can’t wrap my head around it entirely.” Hehnen said. “I don’t really think it’s a huge deal. If it were legalized, I wouldn’t really have a problem with it. I just think people have to be smart about using it, and I think it is helpful in some ways, especially medically.”

Khari Harley, OU freshman, was in favor of the current illegality of marijuana.

“It’s a good thing. I mean, it’s still an illegal drug, so they have to get it off the streets,” Harley said. “I am in favor of it being illegal.”

Adrienne Covington, OU Freshman, said she knows the person who was busted for growing marijuana and his family personally.

“It’s definitely a bummer, especially because he got ratted out. It’s completely life changing for his family,” Covington said.

Covington views confidential informants and other inconspicuous tactics used to bust marijuana crimes “cheating.”

“If they’re doing it in a safe way and in a way that they’re not normally going to get caught, then you shouldn’t get caught,” Covington said.

This view of using confidential informants starkly contrasts Kelly’s view who labeled it as “good police work.”

Regardless of differing moral opinions, Athens mayor, various city council members and Kelly agree that marijuana laws must continue to be enforced during its prohibition.

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