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Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy listens to a question from a member of the media during a news conference. Murphy defended the annual search and seizure of marijuana in the county after a supervisor criticized the effort. 

Even though few marijuana plants were found in Washington County this year, Sheriff Jeff Murphy said the three-day annual search is still worthwhile.

“We do it three days a year and I can assure Mr. Haff, the other 362 days our narcotics unit is focused on heroin and opiates,” he told The Post-Star on Monday.

On Friday at the county Board of Supervisors meeting, Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff criticized the effort. He called the Sheriff’s Office “out of touch” and said it would be better for deputies to focus on heroin.

Haff noted that residents can now buy recreational marijuana in Vermont, which is much easier than cultivating it secretly on a plot of land in New York.

This year’s search found only 500 plants, half as many as last year.

In the past two years, deputies found 1,000 and 1,200 plants, respectively. But in 2015, deputies found just 100 plants.

“There is no rhyme or reason, but I don’t think Vermont legalizing in 2018 has anything to do with it,” Murphy said. “If you look at this year compared to 2015, it was quite a bit more this year.”

Deputies use a helicopter to search for outdoor plants, hidden on farmland and on uncultivated land. The yearly search is funded by a $6,000 federal grant.

The aerial search also provides one additional benefit: pilots must fly their helicopters for a certain number of training hours. They count the aerial searches as those training hours, Murphy said.

Haff did not back down.

“Did they spend $6,000 to confiscate $5,000 in pot?” he asked. “Around the state they’re having these public forums about legalizing marijuana. Aren’t they a little out of touch?”

In addition to Vermont, recreational marijuana has also been legalized in Massachusetts, but most stores are months away from being able to open.

NETA in Northampton and INSA in Easthampton are the closest to getting state approval — both are awaiting a final OK so they can start selling recreational marijuana to adults.

However, it is still illegal to bring that marijuana back to New York.

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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