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Deputies begin marijuana search

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office began its annual sweep for marijuana plants Tuesday with a helicopter, new equipment and statistics telling of last year's successes. In 1990, the Pasco Sheriff's Office ranked first among all Florida sheriff's offices in making 36 arrests for cultivation of marijuana, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Pasco ranked fifth in the state last year by destroying 2,438 marijuana plants in its annual "marijuana eradication program."

Sheriff Jim Gillum said Tuesday that the open spaces of central and east Pasco were responsible for the county's high figures. "There are thousands and thousands of acres out there with nothing but growing spaces and cows," he said.

Those spaces frequently tempt people into planting illicitly on others' property or on public land. Last July the Sheriff's Office seized 458 plants growing in east Pasco woods after sighting the plantings from a helicopter.

Tuesday morning at the Central Pasco Detention Center, some of the dozen deputies assigned to the sweeps displayed new trailers, clothing and equipment. A $19,000 federal drug-eradication grant received last year paid for the equipment.

Then a sheriff's helicopter took off, and the search was on. The sweeps are expected to continue several weeks.

No arrests were made in the initial hours of searching on Tuesday, officials said.