Pubdate: Fri, 14 Mar 2003
Source: Langley Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 BC Newspaper Group and New Media Development
Author: Natasha Jones


The public, and the firefighters and police officers who protect them, have 
been thrown unwittingly onto the firing line of Langley's burgeoning and 
illegal marijuana production industry, the officer in charge of the Langley 
RCMP detachment maintains.

"Marijuana grow operations are happening with alarming regularity in 
Langley and throughout the Lower Mainland," Supt. Cliff MacDonald told 
Township council on Monday.

"And the main concern we have is the safety of our citizens, and I've been 
preaching this to the Township and City for a year now," he added.

MacDonald appeared before council to convince members to adopt a property 
maintenance and repair bylaw which compels landowners to return their 
buildings to a habitable state before they can be occupied again after drug 
ops have been dismantled.

In a visual presentation by Const. Edna Dechant, council saw firsthand how 
grow-ops imperil police officers and firefighters who enter a building in 
which dope has been grown.

MacDonald stressed that there is increasing fear that innocent people will 
be killed or injured when things turn violent around indoor marijuana 
plantations, or labs where potent drugs are concocted.

Some people are growing small amounts for their own use; the larger crops 
are for export, principally to the U.S.

Either way, the illicit drug trade is so profitable that residents must 
realize that if there is a grow next to them, there is a good chance that 
someone will be hurt, MacDonald warned.

There is documented evidence of innocent people gunned down in a spray of 
bullets, he told council.

In a later interview, MacDonald noted that several grow-ops have been 
discovered in the same upscale Langley neighbour-hood, where one house 
looks pretty much like the next one. Gangs or other rivals can easily 
mistake one for the other.

The last thing he wants to see, he said, is a family tied up and terrorized 
in a case of mistaken identity after home invaders picked the wrong house.

Dechant provided council and staff with a graphic illustration showing a 
row of support trusses, one side of which had been cut away so that the pot 
growers could make maximum use of space.

Physical alterations are common, and often the design of a house is changed 
from top to bottom. Large foyers of upscale residences are reconstructed so 
that they can accommodate extra rooms for growing pot.

Concealed crawl spaces are remodeled, and farm buildings, built ostensibly 
for growing mushrooms, are modified for extensive and sophisticated pot 
growing operations. Other outbuildings are put up expressly for the 
production of illegal drugs.

The damage to the environment is incalculable. Growing marijuana requires a 
hot and humid atmosphere which creates condensation, leading to mildew and 

Clandestine labs, built for the manufacture of methamphetamine, and pot 
grow ops, use a cocktail of chemicals. These include fertilizer and 
pesticides, and solvents that are corrosive, toxic, flammable, explosive 
and carcinogenic.

The residue is dumped down drains and toilets. The chemicals emit dangerous 
gases into the environment; death can occur from inhaling or absorbing fumes.

In one case Dechant recounted, spilled chemicals rotted floorboards, 
sending the ceiling crashing down.

But health and safety are not an issue for pot growers, Dechant said. 
"Growers are only concerned with making money. They are not concerned with 
what their place looks like. It's a sad but true statement," she said.

"It disturbs me that I have to go to these homes, rip down an op, and next 
door there is a family with kids," she said.

One council member told MacDonald and Dechant that it appears police are 
"fighting a losing battle." The problem is so widespread that police are 
reluctant to give estimates on the extent of the illegal drug trade in Langley.

In 2001, local police made 63 drug busts, 57 of which were in the Township, 
the rest in Langley City.

Last year, they made 60 busts, all but seven in the Township.

"There are thousands out there. I hate to say it, but we just can't get to 
them all," Dechant said.

The cost to taxpayers quickly adds up. It takes a minimum of five officers 
to conduct one drug bust which lasts at least three hours. Each bust costs 
hundreds of dollars, and does not include police time before a search 
warrant is executed, follow-up investigations or seeing a case through the 
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