The “Up in Smoke” initiative, which was started one year ago, combines the country’s top marijuana eradication task force with the prosecution efforts of the United State’s Attorney’s Office.
Lt. Ed Shemelya, a task force commander for the Governor’s Marijuana Task Force, said the goal of the initiative is to eradicate all marijuana growth.
“We want to eventually eliminate all marijuana growing in Kentucky,” he said. “We hope to change the mindset in eastern Kentucky.”
Harlan County is listed by the state as a high intensity drug trafficking area.
“Harlan County has historically been a big producer of marijuana,” Shemelya said.
The “Up in Smoke” initiative combines resources from the United States Attorney’s Office, Kentucky National Guard, Kentucky State Police, United States Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Forest Service, United States Marshal’s Service and the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area to combat marijuana growth.
In 2007, the U.S. Attorney for the EDKY dedicated resources to work closely with the investigative team of the task force. The result was 49 individuals being charged in federal court for violating federal drug laws and various federal firearm laws.
“We will continue the initiative until there is no longer a need for it. It’s here to stay. It’s not going anywhere,” Shemelya said when asked if the “Up in Smoke” initiative would continue in the future.
Shemelya said the addition of federal prosecution has increased the deterrence to those who grow marijuana in eastern Kentucky.
“We have seen some significantly different tactics from growers as a result of federal prosecution,” Shemelya said. “If we are not able to prosecute these individuals in state court we will prosecute them in federal court.”
Shemelya added the help of citizens is essential to the success of the initiative.
“We are not going to be able to stop the growth of marijuana by ourselves,” he said. “The citizens know who is growing marijuana out there.”
This year the Governor’s Marijuana Task Force, with the aid of (AHIDTA) is implementing a tip line to allow citizens to report marijuana growers to law enforcement.
Anyone who would like to report illegal marijuana growers may call the (AHIDTA) anonymous tip line at (866) 424-4382.