Oops: Police bust marijuana farmer using Google Earth

Chris Gayomali
The Week

It used to be so easy to be a pot farmer. You'd quit your job and liquidate your assets. Maybe buy a plot of land on the forest's edge. Perhaps you'd even get yourself a big, shaggy dog to hang out with you on the porch.

But times they are a-changin' — and a not-insignificant cause is the increasingly sophisticated eyes of technology.

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Very recently, local authorities in Grants Pass, Ore., were tipped off that an ambitious medical marijuana farmer, 50-year-old Curtis W. Croft, "was bragging about all the pot he was growing" on his property, reports the Associated Press. He was registered, per Oregon's medical marijuana laws, as a pot farmer, but is allowed to grow only a limited amount.

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Rather than expend precious manpower to check up on him in person, police investigators first decided to fire up Google Earth to get a rough idea of what Croft was up to.

Authorities say online satellite images taken in June showed dozens of plants in neat rows, so the Rogue Area Drug Enforcement Team sent up an aircraft for a closer look and checked state medical marijuana records.

They showed Croft was registered to grow for five people, which amounts to 30 mature plants. Authorities say a police raid in September seized 94 plants. [Associated Press]

Croft was arraigned on drug charges last week and has since been released.

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Google Earth, it should be noted, has been used to expose all sorts of law breaking over the years, everything from large-scale fishing operations cheating local fishermen to illegally installed backyard swimming pools in Long Island, which landed some home owners with hefty fines.

Digital drug stings, however, have only risen in visibility over the past few years, and they aren't going anywhere. This latest bust wasn't even the first nor the largest: In 2009, for example, Swiss law enforcement used satellite photos to find a massive pot-growing operation hidden in a cornfield.

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But hey! Look on the bright side. At least America's view on weed is evolving; for the first time ever, a majority are now calling for the substance to be legalized.

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