Pubdate: Tue, 16 Sep 2003
Source: Guelph Mercury (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 Guelph Mercury Newspapers Limited
Author: Tom Ford
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


It was one of the most surprising moments in my otherwise humdrum

I had been standing beside a pretty young mother and her baby, who was
happily gurgling and waving her arms and legs in her mother's arms. We
were in a newish, upscale suburb north of Toronto.

The green lawns were carefully cropped; beds of flowers smiled at us
in the summer sunshine; kids were playing soccer just down the street.

"We've been invaded by an Asian gang, "she suddenly told me

I was dumbfounded. An invasion of West Nile crows perhaps. Maybe even
some killer bees. But an Asian gang? Organized crime is supposed to
stay downtown with the poor people and the crummy housing. What were
the gang members doing in a pristine suburb?

"They've set up a grow house in our neighbourhood," she

Apparently, Asian and a few Russian gangs are buying houses in
Canadian suburbs to use them exclusively for growing marijuana. These
houses have helped make Canada one of the largest, if not the largest,
suppliers of marijuana to the huge United States market.

No wonder Americans were concerned when they learned Canada intends to
decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. Reacting to
American concerns, Jean Chretien, the prime minister, emphasized that
growing, selling and possessing pot would still be illegal. As well,
he promised Canada would put resources into fighting the drug trade.

And that's what burns me. So far, there's been little evidence of
adequate resources for police drug squads. In fact, police chiefs say
they don't even have enough officers to shut down the mushrooming
networks of grow houses.

House owners in Scarborough got so angry at police delays they painted
in large letters "this is a grow house" on the two-car garage door of
a house in their neighbourhood.

Grow house operators are sophisticated. They buy houses at a street
corner or nearby so they won't get trapped in a cul-de-sac. They like
the two-car, attached garages so beloved in the suburbs because they
can transfer materials without being seen.

They put a waterproof material on a basement floor and part-way up the
basement walls. Then they flood the basement with one to two inches of
water. The marijuana plants are placed in the water under huge lights.

They break through a basement wall, tunnel out to the electrical main
and tap into it. This way the large amounts of power needed for the
lights won't show up on a hydro bill. Wiring the lights is
complicated; some of the electrical panels look like NASA control centres.

To get rid of the noxious fumes given off in marijuana production,
some gangs run pipes up to a vent in a house's roof.

Police forces sometimes fly over suburbs looking for houses with extra
roof vents. Other characteristics of grow houses: the drapes are
usually drawn; lawns are often scraggly; no one from the house comes
around collecting for the parent-teachers' association.

Police officers have even found expensive video cameras in some houses
that record movement in front and back yards.

Of course, Canada is not the only country experimenting with new
marijuana laws. This month, the Netherlands became the first to allow
pharmacies to sell cannabis on a prescription basis to the chronically
ill. Pressures are building in Canada, Australia and the U.S. for
similar policies. British authorities have set up nationwide hospital
trials to test the effectiveness of pot in relieving pain.

In Amsterdam, Europe's most liberal city, you can buy pot in some
cafes. But the cafe staffs emphasize that the use of marijuana in the
cafes is not legal; it is simply tolerated. If you take pot out of the
cafe, you can be arrested and penalized heavily.

Almost certainly, marijuana laws in Canada and some other nations are
going to be liberalized. In making the changes, however, our
government should not forget the needs of law enforcement agencies.

For the sake of the baby and her mom, we can only hope Chretien's
promise of adequate enforcement is not just a mealy-mouthed platitude.
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