Investigators work together to crack down on major marijuana grow operations

by: Tina Terry Updated:


Local and state drug agents in South Carolina seized nearly $7,000,000 of marijuana during a major drug operation in several South Carolina counties this month.  It happened in rural upstate South Carolina. 

“Lots of very mature plants -- some were 10 to 12 feet tall,” said Jonathan Calore, describing what the agents found.  He’s the assistant law enforcement chief with the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

Chopper 9 Skyzoom was in the air just after drug agents spotted the field of 3,500 marijuana plants.  Investigators plowed their way into the field using a bulldozer.  They pulled up the plants and set them on fire.

Investigators said the suspects were secretly growing the drugs on someone else’s property near Highway 200 and Interstate 77 in Fairfield County.  The property was managed by a timber company.  They said the suspects got away before agents closed in, but left behind evidence that shows they were living there.  They found a bucket of water, detergent, a sponge and what appeared to be a hammock tied to the trees. 

SLED said growers purposely choose areas like this, so they can grow and ship their drugs more quickly.

“With an operation of this size, it wouldn’t surprise me if some does go into Fairfield County, but I would be very surprised if a large majority of it didn’t make its way to larger cities such as Charlotte or Atlanta,” said Captain Brad Douglass of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office.

For five years, the Interstate 77 Corridor Marijuana Eradication Project has been searching for marijuana grow operations in York, Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties. 

They say these illegal operations have a major impact on nearby communities.  For example, in Lancaster County, officials said they’ve seen a spike in property crimes due to drug activity.

“I would say the majority of our crime is somehow linked to drug activity one way or another,” said Major Matt Shaw of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. 

Since the operation started five years ago, agents have destroyed about 100,000 plants.  They’ve made just four arrests.  All of them were Hispanic illegal immigrants.

“We’ve not been able to identify a puppeteer who is in charge of these operations. Our investigations just have not led to that point,” said Lt. Max Dorsey.  He’s with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

They said with every bust, they uncover new information that could one day bring down the rings from the bottom up.

The I-77 Corridor Marijuana Eradication Project is made up of South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division, The Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina’s Forestry Commission, South Carolina’s National Guard, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and authorities from York, Lancaster, Fairfield and Chester counties.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Drug Enforcement Administration.  They said marijuana in Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee is strategically controlled by Mexican drug organizations.  They also have an eradication program in place to halt the spread of marijuana cultivation.