Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jan 2004
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2004 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Keeble McFarlane


"Weeds are not supposed to grow, but by degrees Some achieve a flower, 
although no one sees." - English poet Philip Larkin

If you think ganja production is a growth industry" limited only to places 
like Jamaica, think again.

Just last weekend, a police team drawn from several forces in the Canadian 
province of Ontario raided a former brewery about an hour's drive north of 
Toronto and uncovered the biggest ganja operation anyone has ever heard of. 
Acting on a tip, the police swooped down on the huge building, right 
adjacent to one of the busiest highways in Canada and found an extremely 
sophisticated operation they estimate could produce Cdn$100-million a year. 
The discovery shocked many people, especially the 100,000 citizens of the 
pleasant lakeside city of Barrie. Television and newspaper reports featured 
police pictures of row upon row of healthy plants growing under powerful 

For many years the brewing giant, Molson, operated the huge brewery which 
is a kind of landmark for those driving along Highway 400 from Toronto 
towards their homes in Barrie or to points further north.

In a consolidation of its business, the beer company shut down the brewery 
about four years ago, and sold it to a firm which has rented out the 
premises to several businesses. But for more than a year, the police say, 
no one driving past the well-known site suspected what was going on inside 
the plant.

Neither did any of the other tenants.

It was ideal for this kind of operation: the site has the highway on one 
side and parkland and trees around the rest of it, so there was very little 
risk that someone would detect the unusual odours the operation produced. 
And since the building had indoor as well as outdoor loading docks,

shipping supplies and the end product in and out of the plant by truck was 
no problem.

One of the other tenants in the building had a coffee-roasting business, 
which would further cover up any tell-tale smells.

Inside the windowless building, the police found a computer-controlled 
hydroponic system which allowed the operators to fine-tune the growth of 
the rows of plants inside 25 enormous vats once used to age beer. The vats, 
which once produced some of Canada's most popular brands of beer, were 
rigged up with heating vents, rows of lights, fans, thermostats and 
computer controls, connected by many kilometres of wire. The vats provided 
an ideal environment for the plants, as the operators could precisely 
control the temperature, humidity, amount of light as well as the chemical 
medium feeding the plants.

The Barrie police chief said the wiring and ventilation system was so 
sophisticated it must have been designed by engineers.

There were areas to nurture plants to flower and produce seed, which would 
be started in nursery beds and then transferred to the growing areas for 
finishing. The chemical bath was fine-tuned to allow the plants to produce 
the maximum amount of THC, or tetra-hydra-cannabinol, the ingredient that 
gives the weed its potent kick. A typical crop would take about three 
months, after which the plants were dried on racks in rooms where the 
temperature and humidity could also be closely controlled. The growing 
operation was monitored round the clock, 365 days a year, and this meant 
people had to be there all the time. To facilitate this, they had fixed up 
a dormitory which could sleep as many as 50, and a cafeteria with 
refrigerators, cooking facilities, and even television.

This operation is only the largest and most sophisticated the police have 
found, but it's by no means unusual.

In recent years, police across Canada have raided similar operations in old 
factories, warehouses and industrial buildings. But there are still 
seasonal farms growing plants outside, and many people are also growing 
ganja in houses both in inner cities and in the suburbs. In those cases, 
police usually find out from unusual increases in the amount of water and 
electricity used, as well as the lack of activities normal to dwellings.

In some cases, the operators use timers to switch the lights on and off in 
random patterns, as well as to open and close drapes; they remove mail and 
newspapers in order to camouflage the activities. Police have even found a 
few instances in which people have engaged in the dangerous practice of 
bypassing the electric meters by tapping into power lines to avoid 
detection because of the large amount of power used to feed the powerful 
lights as well as the pumps and fans.

Call it marijuana, pot, weed, ganja or any of the other popular 
descriptions, the weed has become a very lucrative business in Canada, 
which has become one of the world's leading exporters.

Growing the weed used to be an amateur activity, pursued originally by 
hippies and others outside the mainstream of society.

The city of Vancouver, and other parts of forested British Columbia, used 
to be the centre of ganja-growing in Canada. Small growers favoured 
clear-cut patches left behind by the timber companies on Crown land, since 
it would be impossible for the police to trace the grower through 
ownership, and anyone suspected could easily deny knowledge of the crop. In 
years gone past, car dealers on Vancouver Island, just off the west coast, 
used to credit four-wheel-drive vehicles to people in the spring, knowing 
that in the autumn the owners would come in and pay off their debts in 
cash. Vancouver was also where the practice of breeding the plants to 
increase the THC content took off. Naturally-occurring ganja would contain 
perhaps three per cent THC, but even 15 years ago ganja sold on the street 
in Vancouver would easily top 15% THC!

Although much is still grown there, marijuana growing has spread right 
across Canada. A senior office of the Ontario Provincial Police says 
growing the weed has become a billion-dollar business in Ontario. According 
to the official, it has taken on "epidemic proportions", and there just 
aren't enough people in the province to consume all the ganja grown here. A 
lot of it goes to the United States, and the Customs people along the 
border have heightened their vigilance.

Apart from the fact that this business provides enormous profits for 
relatively modest outlays, the leniency of the courts in Canada also makes 
it attractive. Police say most people arrested for growing ganja get off 
with a fine, while the same offense would draw sentences of three to seven 
years in the US. Of course, we'll never stamp out ganja smoking, and the 
best the authorities can expect is to conduct raids such as this big one 
from time to time, as well as seize shipments crossing the border.

The 19th century American philosopher and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once 
described a weed as a plant whose virtues have not been discovered. 
However, based on what's happening in this field, it seems that, for some 
people at least, we can no longer describe the plant known to scientists as 
cannabis a 'weed'.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart