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Weed received TLC

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GREEN ACRES - Following up on a tip Tuesday, Sgt. Investigator Chad Lanier with the Wise County Sheriff's Office discovered the largest marijuana grow operation he's seen in the county in eight years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Maneuvering through a maze of tropical-looking plants, law enforcement officers were amazed at the meticulous care given to a marijuana farm discovered in southwest Wise County Tuesday.

“This took a ton of work,” said Chad Lanier, sergeant investigator with the Sheriff’s Office. “They’ve installed an irrigation system on electric timers throughout the property. He started all these from seeds.”

Some of the plants towered 15 feet tall. Clumps of buds sporting red and purple hairs coated with tiny white crystals covered the ends of branches pointing toward the sun. These buds, along with the leaves, are what the grower would dry and sell, investigators said.

“There is a high THC content in these plants,” said Lt. Art Ferguson as he worked his way through the jungle of deep-green serrated leaves. THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active ingredient in marijuana.

The farmers labeled each individual variety or strain of marijuana. White plastic labels protruding from the soil at the base of each plant had names like “Atomic Haze,” “Colombian Gold,” “Church,” “AK-48″ and “Critical Jack Herer.”

High-quality seeds can be ordered from countries where marijuana has been decriminalized, such as the Netherlands. Seed packs cost as little as $35.

Inside a home on one of the properties, Lanier discovered quart-sized glass jars loaded with various strains of marijuana. Harvest dates were stuck on the sides.

Sheriff’s deputies discovered 176 marijuana plants growing outdoors on two properties in Indian Springs Ranch subdivision Tuesday.

“I can tell you I haven’t see a grow this big before in Wise County,” Lanier said. “This is a major operation.”

Lanier has worked at the sheriff’s office for eight years.

The properties were located in the 100 block of North Comanche Trail, just southwest of Cottondale.

Following a tip, Lanier verified the plants via helicopter. Among the hills and post oaks, he spotted the plants growing in openings among the trees from several hundred feet in a small black helicopter.

John D. Oliver, 58, of 125 North Comanche Trail was charged with possession of 50 to 2,000 pounds of marijuana. His bond was set at $10,000. He posted bail Wednesday. Investigators are seeking additional suspects.

Into late Tuesday evening as the sun reddened in the west, a small team of deputies uprooted the nearly 200 plants. Some grew along game trails on opposite sides of a trickling creek. Another cluster sprang up near a pen full of playful yellow labrador retrievers. Tomato vines decorated with green and red globes of fruit ran between the marijuana stalks. Sunflowers raised heads as big as cantaloupes alongside.

“They raise a lot of things out here,” Sgt. Barney Graham said as he disappeared into a veritable forest of marijuana.

There were also areas cleared and tilled left fallow to possibly allow for crop rotation.

After hacking down all the marijuana, investigators loaded the mountain of weed into a horse trailer and took it to the sheriff’s office as evidence. Lanier said they must dry out the buds and leaves before knowing how much marijuana was confiscated. But each plant is capable of producing up to 2 pounds of marijuana worth as much as $200 per ounce on the street.

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