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Forest preserve police weed out marijuana

Saturday, August 30, 2008
Souttown Star
by NATHANIEL ZIMMER

Several million dollars worth of marijuana went up in smoke Friday afternoon at Pioneer Woods near Palos Hills.

But with a bunch of camouflage-clad Cook County Forest Preserve police officers standing watch over the bonfire, there wasn't much chance of anyone getting a case of the munchies.

The big burn was the result of authorities' efforts to prevent cannabis cultivators from using public land for their own nefarious agricultural purposes.

The plants, about 3,000 or so, were uprooted Friday morning from a half-dozen different locations in southern Cook County, said forest preserve Police Chief Richard Waszak, whose department has been working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to weed out the weed. Some looked to be about 6 feet tall.

The harvest then was brought to the entrance to the woods and consigned to the flames, sending a thick cloud of distinctive-smelling smoke across 107th Street west of LaGrange Road.

"It is impossible to ensure cannabis is never illegally planted among our 68,000 acres of open space, but I pledge that my department will continue to seek out and eradicate every such plant on the taxpayers' property," Waszak said.

No one has been arrested in connection with the crops destroyed Friday, although police are seeking a man they said they photographed while he appeared to be working a stand of marijuana plants. The decision to pull the plants was made because this is harvest time, and it's difficult to keep an eye on the fields 24 hours a day, Waszak said.

One reason people have taken to planting on public property is that authorities can't seize their assets if the crops are discovered, as would be the case if they grew on their own land, Waszak said.

Meanwhile, tighter border security seems to have made it harder to move marijuana into the United States, increasing the amount of domestic cultivation, according to the chief.

Officers sometimes have to get on their hands and knees and crawl through thickly wooded areas to get to the groves.

"They don't make it so anyone can see it," Waszak said.

But forest preserve visitors who spot suspicious looking plants can call (708) 771-1001 to alert police.

Nathaniel Zimmer can be reached at nzimmer@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5994.



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