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Drought makes green marijuana crops more visible for police

Courtesy Indiana State Police

A police photo of marijuana planted in between corn in Harrison County, Ind. The drought across the Midwest is allowing police to easier sight green marijuana crop from the air, next to browning, dry corn.

Police in Indiana say they're finding an unexpected benefit to the drought baking the American Midwest: Marijuana crops are easier to find.

Many of the cornfields across the state's parched lands are dry and brown, making the distinctive green marijuana crops stand out "like a sore thumb," according to State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin.

The State Police on Tuesday cut down 30 newly flowering marijuana plants, The Courier-Journal in Kentucky reported. If allowed to fully mature, these plants would be worth over $30,000, according to The Courier-Journal. Possessing or growing marijuana in Indiana is illegal, Goodin said, and so far in 2012, nearly 30,000 plants have been cut across the state.

Trained troopers fly over the land in airplanes and helicopters to look for the green crop.

"It’s called 'spotting,'" said Goodin. "This year, their jobs are much easier, because much of the foliage (around the marijuana crop) has browned and died."

"A lot of people think we use infrared scopes, but we don’t," Indiana Trooper Mike Bennett, coordinator of the state police Marijuana Eradication Team, told The Courier-Journal. "Marijuana has a distinct green color.”

In most of these cases, Goodin said, farmers had no idea that the pot was on their land: "It’s people who come in and sneak in and plant it."

Courtesy Indiana State Police

Marijuana captured by police in Scott County, Ind.

Despite drought conditions, these marijuana squatters still spend time tending their plants because of the money they can reap, according to Goodin.

Related: The economics of pot legalization

Police say that although arrests are the goal when they find these crops, the planters' identities might never be known.

"By eradicating it, hopefully it will discourage that person who’s doing it," Goodin said.

On Tuesday, Indiana State Police also got rid of about 100 other marijuana plants in rural areas of the state's Harrison and Clark Counties, The Courier-Journal reported.

But humans aren't always the culprit. Goodin said wild marijuana continues to grow across Indiana, after farmers during World War II grew hemp to produce rope.

Over in Kentucky, state police Sgt. Richard Saint-Blancard said the drought "really does not make that much of a difference" in marijuana eradication efforts.

Related: The politics of pot

Private farms are not the only lands prone to covert marijuana operations.

Through the end of August, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is leading "Operation Mountain Sweep," an effort to target large-scale marijuana growing operations on public lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The operation began July 1 and so far more than 578,000 plants, estimated by the DEA to be worth more than $1 billion, have been found.

Federal data indicates the number of live marijuana plants eradicated in outdoor and indoor grow operations has dropped in most states in the past three years, The Associated Press reported in early August. While authorities can't point to an exact reason, the AP reported that during those same three years, the amount of bulk processed marijuana seized doubled.

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