Published Thu, May 17, 2012 3:23 pm Dateline
Just five months into 2012, Ohio State Highway Patrol officers say they have already seized more marijuana than in all of last year.
According to data released by the state highway patrol this week, more than 1.7 million grams, or about 3,800 pounds, of marijuana was seized in Ohio since January 1 of this year. The current total is 26 percent higher than the total marijuana seizures in 2011.
Anne Ralston, a lieutenant at the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said the increase is the result of a few major drug busts.
"Well so far this year, we've had a couple significant marijuana seizures," she said. "Just on May 7, we seized 18 pounds of hydroponic marijuana. In April on the 5th, we seized 538 pounds [of marijuana] worth $2.1 million."
Ralston attributes the increase in drug seizures to a re-focused mission among law enforcement agencies.
"[We are] looking beyond the traffic stop, looking for signs of criminal activity, looking for people who are showing us signs that they may have just or may be trafficking drugs to our state," she said. "That was a concerted effort and re-focus that we dedicated ourselves to at the beginning of 2011 and we're in the second year of that now."
In Athens County, the amount of marijuana seized by the highway patrol has exceeded last year's figure by eight percent.
As Ralston and Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly explained, this figure does not represent all drug seizures in the state.
"These are only highway patrol seizures. Our jurisdiction is the roads and highways, state-owned and leased property in the state of Ohio. So this is only representing what we're seeing and coming across" Ralston said.
"All the highway patrol does is patrol up and down the highway. They don't go into people's homes. They have no clue what the drug problem is," he said.
While the number of marijuana seizures in Athens County is high, Kelly said it isn't a large concern for the county.
"While by no means advocating the use or legalization of marijuana, I have never seen anyone die of an overdose on marijuana," said Kelly in a March 28 post on his Facebook page."
He said the county's biggest problem is heroin and prescription drug abuse.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol's heroin seizures so far this year have also surpassed 2011's total by 19 percent, with more than 20,000 grams confiscated.