Aerial Weed-Spotting Missions Come To An End, As Police Put Focus On Opioids

Dec 12, 2018

Vermont State Police have disbanded a decades-old program that used military helicopters to spot illicit cannabis farms from on high.

For years, many Vermonters in rural areas could count on seeing at least a couple low-flying choppers buzzing over their properties every summer. Those aerial spotting missions were the most visible manifestation of the “Marijuana Eradication Resource Team,” and they resulted in the uprooting of as many as 6,400 cannabis plants annually.

But as the Department of Public Safety narrows its focus to opioid investigations, according to Detective Lt. Casey Daniell, state police have decided to reallocate their cannabis eradication resources to more pressing public safety issues.

“I mean really it comes down to … resources of people that we don’t have to fill those slots and investigate the marijuana cases or the cannabis cases when we have to focus on the opioid epidemic,” Daniell says.

"I mean really it comes down to … resources of people that we don't have to fill those slots and investigate the marijuana cases or the cannabis cases when we have to focus on the opioid epidemic." — Det. Lt. Casey Daniell, Vermont State Police

Daniell says the Marijuana Eradication Resource Team flew its final mission in late 2015, a year in which police were able to locate more than 1,400 cannabis plants.

While the trips themselves were funded in part with federal grants, state police still had to commit officers’ time and energy to the effort. And Daniell says those resources are better expended on opioid investigations.

“The flights are certainly not what they were or will be probably in the near future, but we’re still going to focus on [large-scale cannabis grows], because it is a safety concern for all Vermonters,” Daniell says.

With helicopter flights no longer part of the interdiction effort, Daniell says state police will use more conventional investigative methods to find them.

“At this point we would rely more heavily based on confidential informant information on those places,” Daniell says.