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Dutch to Track Cannabis From Space to Nab ‘Green Gold’ Growers

Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Dutch police and local governments in the southern Netherlands will work with the European Space Agency to find illegal cannabis plots hidden in fields of corn and asparagus using satellite data.

The space agency will perform a trial in 2012, using multispectral and infrared images taken from Earth’s orbit to identify hemp plants, according to Max Timp, a spokesman for the municipality of Venlo, which is leading the project.

While growing hemp for marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands, authorities tolerate raising five cannabis plants for home use. Limburg, the country’s southern-most province, has set up a program called “green gold” to root out illegal rural growing of cannabis, this year clearing 4,140 plants with a street value of 3 million euros ($4 million).

“In the spring of 2012 there’ll be a pilot to see if we can use satellite technology to fight weed cultivation in the rural area,” Timp said by phone today. “The first contacts were a few weeks ago, it’s very preliminary.”

The space agency is experimenting with technology to distinguish hemp from other crops by measuring wavelengths reflected from the plants, Timp said. Cannabis was found at 53 locations in Limburg this year, in corn and asparagus plots as well as forested areas, according to Venlo.

Police now use helicopters to find cannabis plantations hidden among other crops, according to Jos Klaren, a spokesman for the Dutch national police service. Satellite technology may be useful to find the illegal crops “quickly,” he said.

The satellite-imaging technology that will be used to detect cannabis plantations has already been used successfully in Canada in 2007, according to Timp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Deane at jdeane3@bloomberg.net

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