The blazing heat is wilting Oklahoma's most covert crop: marijuana.
Drug agents found a pot operation in McCurtain County where growers were raising 111 plants in an area where 111,000 plants would have been found 15 years ago, said Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward.
The total number of cultivated plants discovered has dropped below 20,000 over the past year. Woodward said about a decade ago, agents were finding 80,000 to 100,000 marijuana plants a year.
“The cultivators are alive and well out there. There's just not as many of them because of the drought,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
Mother Nature is helping the bureau's helicopter surveillance program that has led to a decline in marijuana operations in the state in the last couple of years, Weaver said.
Wednesday, agents found a campsite, scraps of food and tenderly cared for marijuana plants in a patch near Claremore. Woodward said it appears to be a Mexican cartel cell in which drug lords likely paid pennies on the dollar to workers dumped on the acreage to care for the crop once considered Oklahoma's biggest cash crop.
Agents were still assessing the find but he said the condition of that marijuana was the exception to the rule in these days of the triple-digit temperatures.
“What weed we are finding is in pretty bad shape. People just didn't have the time to constantly tend to them to get them to survive in this heat,” Woodward said.
Agents fly a grid of patterns all summer long and are now seeing fewer and fewer marijuana plants as cultivators have a harder time flying under the agency's radar, he said.
Years ago, Weaver saw a 20-foot plant nurtured by a sophisticated watering system.
“It looked like a Christmas tree. It was the prettiest tree you've ever seen,” he said.
It appears the days are gone of the fields of 2,000 to 3,000 plants, Weaver said.
“To cultivators, I'd say, ‘This is my state. And we're not ever going to give it to you,'” he said.