Powell’s marijuana plants draw national attention

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A few small marijuana plants found growing in some City of Powell planters turned into big news.

Starting in late June, city workers discovered several cannabis plants sprouting up alongside the flowers in three downtown planters.

After the Powell Tribune wrote about the unwanted “weed” on July 12, the story quickly spread across not just the state, but the entire country.

The Wyoming News Exchange and The Associated Press picked up versions of the Tribune’s article, then other outlets ranging from the Billings Gazette to CNN, NPR and CBS published variations of the tale.

The news spread from coast to coast — from Sacramento TV station KCRA to the Miami Herald — likely reaching millions of people.

The calls to Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt from reporters and producers came in “non-stop” in the days following the story’s publication, he said. Eckerdt dutifully returned them, fielding questions like, “Is Powell the Berkeley of Wyoming?” (No, Powell is not like California’s famed liberal hub, the chief explained.)

Parks Superintendent Del Barton was also in high demand, being interviewed by CNN.

Many of the repeat questions for the chief surrounded whether police had any suspects and the status of any investigation. (“It’s not going to go anywhere,” Eckerdt explained.)

In an interview with a producer for “Next with Kyle Clark,” a program broadcast on KUSA in Denver, Eckerdt said the seeds appear to have been planted around the same time that spring classes were wrapping up at Northwest College, implying it could have been the work of a college student.

“Is that profiling? Probably. Is he right? Probably,” host Kyle Clark smirked in his broadcast.

Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, and the program dubbed the plants’ discovery in Powell “The Most Colorado Thing We Saw Today.”

Everywhere the story was shared, the news was generally met with laughs.

“Did you guys think it was funny?” a producer at KUSA pressed Eckerdt.

“I’m hesitant to say that,” Eckerdt said, though he went a bit further in admitting to NPR that, “Folks are getting a big kick out of the story.”

The original article became the most-read story of all time on the Tribune’s website, collecting more than 31,500 views in its first week online. According to Google Analytics data, site visitors spent more than 1,500 hours on that Tribune page — devoting the equivalent of nearly nine-and-a-half weeks worth of time to reading the piece.

That undoubtably paled in comparison to the traffic it generated for the much larger news outlets that picked up the story.

As just one example, NowThis Weed, part of the social news company NowThis, used the Tribune’s reporting and the city’s photos to create a Facebook video titled, “Wyoming Public Flower Pots Seed-Bombed With Weed.” It racked up 167,000 views in just a few days last week.

Eckerdt speculated that the interest in the story is due in part to the fact that marijuana is a hot topic across the country, and Wyoming has been “such a hard and fast opponent” to legalizing the substance.

The many repeated media inquiries requesting interviews and the city’s photos of the plants were “an enormous drain on my time,” he said.

“Realistically, Powell and the state of Wyoming has so much more to offer that they [media outlets] could be paying attention to as opposed to that,” Eckerdt said.

Of course, as the chief recalled other incidents that have drawn a similar amount of attention to the department, they weren’t traditional big news stories, either. Eckerdt specifically remembers a flood of attention that came from a 2012 shoplifting citation that officers issued to a Northwest College student who ate a donut at Blair’s Market and left without paying for it. There was also a well-publicized 2004 incident, where police cited two teens for indecent exposure after catching them playing basketball in the nude.

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