Earlier this month, police in Jasper, Mo., posted pictures and details about a huge pot bust they made outside their town.
“One of the largest marijuana grow seizures in the area,” the police department posted to its Facebook page.
They had help from police in Lamar, sheriffs in Barton and Jasper counties, and the Missouri National Guard. On a hot, humid day, law enforcement officials chopped down and seized about 290 tall, green plants.
All that pot must have had a street value of about $100,000, the Jasper police figured in its Facebook post.
Then that pot bust went up in a blaze.
That’s not pot, the Internet cried. That’s hemp — you know, rope stuff, not smoke stuff.
Scorn from hundreds of people on social media rained down. Folks mocked the cops for bragging about seizing a towering pile of ditch weed.
High Times mocked the department’s “proud-as-hell photos” taken with all that booty.
Within a couple of days the Facebook post — and apparently the department’s entire page — disappeared like smoke but lived on in screen grabs still floating around.
“The Jasper police quickly pulled the post when they realized their guys had come face-to-face with a field of hemp that they thought was cannabis,” wrote High Times.
Legally, it really doesn’t matter, High Times noted.
“Growing hemp is still against the law in Missouri, unless you’re one of the two entities licensed to grow industrial hemp under the Industrial Hemp Farming Act ...
“While the state draws no legal distinction between hemp and marijuana, if you’re in law enforcement, it might be wise to know the difference. Scores of Missouri folks certainly did when they saw their giddy cops on Facebook who were doing the math about the hemp’s ‘street value.’”
When people began speculating about the plants, the Riverfront Times in St. Louis made a Herculean effort to verify whether all those plants were hemp or pot. It interviewed lawyers and sent screen shots to marijuana experts.
The answers were mixed. Looks like hemp. Could be pot. Can’t be sure because it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference until the plant is late in flower, one hemp grower said.
Then the publication caught up with Jasper’s police chief himself, Chad Karr, who shared the back story of the bust and left the Times wondering: “Was Missouri Cops’ $100K ‘Marijuana Grow Seizure’ Just Smoke?”
Karr said the department’s Facebook post wasn’t meant to be a big brag about a big bust. Law enforcement officials had one specific person in mind with the news: a suspected methamphetamine dealer operating in the area, Karr told the Riverfront Times.
Last October, Jasper cops intercepted nearly 5 pounds of Mexican meth they believed was headed to the dealer, he said. They nabbed a couple of alleged accomplices but not the main target.
Over the last few weeks police received a tip that their target was growing weed outside of town. So the agencies banded together to pull off a “marijuana eradication” operation, said Karr, who characterized it as a “we’ve got our eyes on you” kind of move.
“He’s very aggressive toward us,” Karr told the Riverfront Times. “And we’re very aggressive toward him.”
“In this telling, the problem for Jasper is that its Facebook post found a much bigger audience than just its target,” the Riverfront Times wrote, noting the nearly 1,000 comments on Facebook by the time Karr pulled down the post.
When the Times asked him about that $100,000 “street value” figure he quoted, Karr admitted he’s no expert on marijuana and was estimating conservatively — blowing smoke, so to speak.
He said there were a few buds on the plants that might not have been obvious in the Facebook photos and trails leading out to the field indicated someone was tending them.
The police chief also said he doesn’t care whether people smoke pot.
“I think the misconception is we go to work to bust potheads,” Karr said. “I personally do not. I know what the problem is — it’s opiates and methamphetamine.”