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A seemingly innocuous driving violation yielded another seizure of illegal drugs in Minnesota.

A woman motoring through Otter Tail County in northwestern Minnesota was stopped for an obstructed license plate. Then the observant state trooper discovered she was sitting on packages of marijuana.

Troopers seized more than 300 pounds of the weed during the stop last Friday, the latest of several large pot busts the State Patrol has made in the past few weeks and a sign that the surge of pot and illegal drugs into Minnesota is continuing.

“When I see a big load like that, it makes me thankful those drugs did not end up in the community,” said Col. Matt Langer with the Minnesota State Patrol.

Troopers seized 2,642 pounds of marijuana in 2017, compared with 390 pounds in 2016. The 2017 total was more than the patrol had confiscated over the previous five years, Langer said.

This year is starting off like 2017, Langer said.

On Jan. 26 troopers stopped a driver on Interstate 94 in Otter Tail County with 200 pounds of marijuana valued at more than $600,000. A trooper discovered the stash with the help of a drug-sniffing dog.

Two days earlier, a trooper stopped a driver for speeding near Alexandria. A search of the vehicle turned up 24 pounds of pot valued at $8,200.

It’s not just pot that troopers are finding. In 2017, the patrol caught drivers transporting 160 pounds of methamphetamine, up from 65.7 pounds seized in 2016. Troopers also found 17.7 pounds of cocaine, 14 pounds of heroin and nearly 10 pounds of hashish. All quantities were more than double the amount found in 2016.

It’s not clear if I-94 is becoming the new drug super-highway, but several of the arrests have occurred on the freeway running from the Twin Cities northwest to the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“We are not sure if we are a step ahead or a step behind,” Langer said. “We see drugs on every road, but we have seen large quantities in that area and we are paying attention to I-94.”

Langer credits diligent troopers enforcing traffic laws for the large busts. Troopers have been assisted by a 15 drug-sniffing dog teams, the most the patrol has had in several years.

“We have very talented troopers who have encountered that stuff.” Langer said. “We are making our roads safer.”

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768