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Gone to Pot?

Drug task force wins awards for marijuana and cocaine busts.

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It could be said that officers from the West Tennessee Violent Crime and Drug Task Force were definitely holding.

Sergeant James Mayes and agent Kelly Nichols seized more marijuana (571 pounds) and more cocaine (99 pounds) in a single bust than anyone else in the state this year.

The officers, both members of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, took home awards for the largest marijuana and cocaine busts at the annual meeting of the Tennessee Narcotics Association in Gatlinburg. The drug task force, composed of 11 counties, including Shelby, also took home the Criminal Interdiction Team of the Year award.

"Essentially, the Tennessee Narcotics Officers awards looked at data that had been reported to them, as far as the number of arrests and seizures of drugs and what-have-you over a year period," said David McGriff, director of the task force. "They factored that statistical data in and elected it from a review all across the state."

The West Tennessee Violent Crime and Drug Task Force spans four judicial districts and employs officers from each county's local police and sheriff's departments. The task force allows neighboring counties to share manpower, equipment, and information.

McGriff said many of the team's seizures happened in Shelby County, where the task force is headquartered. The force has a separate unit to deal with highway drug seizures, which made 88 arrests over the past year.

The unit seized 1,951 pounds of marijuana, 346 pounds of cocaine, more than 6 pounds of heroin, and 2,400 dosage units of illegal pills. They also seized 42 vehicles, five of which were stolen.

"A great portion of these drugs are just passing through," said McGriff. "However, there are drugs coming to Memphis that we've interdicted. There is a significant problem with drugs in Shelby County."

McGriff said this is the first year the team has taken home any awards.

"It's not luck at all, just a lot of hard work. We've seized a tremendous amount of drugs," said McGriff. "I've been in narcotics for a long time, and I've never seized 80 pounds of cocaine or 500 pounds of marijuana at one time. Generally, it's a pound of cocaine or 100 pounds of marijuana."

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