Sheriff Garrett Roberts hasn't needed a machete to cut any of the scrawny marijuana plants he has confiscated this year.
A severe drought that has parched corn and soybean fields across the Southeast has also scorched marijuana crops, leaving plants that should be 10 feet tall so puny that Roberts and his deputies simply pull them up.
"The plants we've seen have been anywhere from 2 inches to 5 1/2 feet tall," said Roberts, the chief law enforcer in eastern Kentucky's Lawrence County.
Kentucky, one of the nation's top producers of marijuana, has seen a sharp decrease in production of the illegal crop this year. The weather there and in neighboring states is cutting into the supply, and street prices for the drug could rise, authorities say.
Kentucky state police confiscated nearly 190,000 fewer plants between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 than they did in the same period last year, and the ones they have collected yielded only about half the usual amount of the buds that growers sell as intoxicants.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ranked Kentucky second last year behind California in the number of plants eradicated. Kentucky state police reported 488,502 plants, nearly $1 billion worth, confiscated between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 last year. Over the same period this year, troopers have found and cut 299,220 plants.
"I've walked into quite a few plots where the plants are just shriveled up and dead," said state police Lt. Ed Shemelya, head of Kentucky's marijuana-eradication program.
The dry weather has forced many growers to haul water to their marijuana plots, putting themselves at greater risk of being caught, Shemelya said. So far, he said, more than 100 growers have been arrested this year.
"The weather has been our friend and the growers' worst nightmare this year," Shemelya said.
DEA agent Tony King, who heads the Louisville field office, said the weather has sharply cut into the region's street-level marijuana supplies.
"The information received from our confidential sources is that it's scarce," King said. "They're looking for quality marijuana, and there's none to be found right now."
Marijuana sells for $100 to $500 an ounce on the streets, but King said he expects the price to increase.
"It's the old supply and demand rule," King said. "If there's no supply and the demand stays strong, the price is going to go up."