KENT COUNTY, Mich. – "Grow marijuana legally, or don’t grow it at all." That’s the message from state troopers looking to eradicate illegally grown marijuana in Michigan.
Illegal grows are still a target for federally funded law enforcement agencies here in West Michigan. The Metropolitan Enforcement Team (MET) operates under the Michigan State Police, operating both on the ground and in the air to locate and eliminate illegal marijuana plants.
“We’re not here to harass the people that are legally compliant, we’re here to take care of marijuana that is not legally compliant,” said Det. Lt Steven Rau, Section Commander of MET.
Four times every year, MSP Aviation takes to the air in search of marijuana planted illegally.
Whether it’s in cornfields or backyards, it’s relatively easy to spot. These are called ‘Hemp Flights’ and they’re federally funded and handled by the DEA, State Police, Army National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
However, the job is changing because of Michigan Medical Marijuana.
“We see less marijuana in the corn now because people have found an avenue to grow it legally,” said Sgt. Matt Rogers, a tactical flight officer with MSP.
Ten years ago, these ‘Hemp Flights’ would generally find illegal grows of marijuana throughout the state. Monday, the team identified only six illegal plants in a cord field, and hundreds more in legal grow pens owned and operated by licensed card holders.
“Currently, there are 220,000 people in the state with Medical Marijuana cards. We’re the second highest in the nation,” said Det. Lt. Steven Rau.
After Public Acts 281-283 take effect in December, market analysts expect medical marijuana in Michigan to rake in over $63 million annually.
Which is one reason officials are seeing legal plants spotted more often than illegal. However, it’s up to MET to identify and eradicate any plants that are growing outside the law.
“Until then we’re going to do our job because there are people growing marijuana illegally, and they need to do it legally or not do it at all,” Sgt. Matt Rogers said.
The aviation of this team is just a small part. There are also boots on the ground removing and destroying the plants.
Those teams were undercover Monday and unable to be filmed. Since the laws are changing, this means the future for MET could look very different. For now, it’s business as usual.