Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2005
Source: Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Julie DeBruin: The Advance
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Special Report - City Not Immune To Grow-Op Dangers

Drugs and weapons make for a potentially lethal mix, and police in Simcoe 
County are finding more of the latter when busting the former.

The issue of violence connected to the production of drugs flared into the 
public's sightlines last week when four RCMP officers were gunned down in 
rural Alberta while attempting to apprehend a man in connection with a 
grow-op and stolen property. The four young officers, who ranged in age 
from 25 to 32, were ambushed by Jim Roszko as they waited for him in a 
quonset hut on his farm. He had fled the farm earlier, but somehow returned 
unnoticed, killing the officers in a shootout in the hut. Roszko 
subsequently killed himself, police say. A national memorial service was 
held Thursday in Edmonton for constables Peter Schiemann, 25, Lionide 
Johnston, 32, and Brock Myrol, 29, of the RCMP's Mayerthorpe detachment, 
and Anthony Gordon, 28, from the Whitecourt station.

Initial reports and observations connected the killings to the presence of 
a grow-op, but the focus has since shifted to that of a troubled man with a 
history of violence and crime, who was somehow in possession of a 
high-powered semi-or fully-automatic rifle.

Even though attention has moved from a 'grow-op' with only 20 pot plants, 
police aren't downplaying the potential for violence connected to the 
proliferation of grow operations, many of which have been found right here 
in Simcoe County.

These operations present significant dangers to both police and the public, 
said Det. Insp. Frank Elbers, who is with the OPP Drug Enforcement section, 
based out of Orillia.

"There has been a huge increase in weapons," he said of guns found at 
raided grow operations. In the past three years, local police agencies and 
members of the Huronia Combined Forces Drug Unit, have seized 211 weapons.

Indoor grow-ops present risks to officers first on the crime scene, and to 
citizens residing or working nearby, as many are rigged with booby-traps, 
said Elbers. There are also health hazards associated with indoor grow-ops, 
because humid growing conditions make them prime breeding grounds for 
mould. Shoddy, illegal hydro connections leave them vulnerable to fire and 

In Alberta, investigators continue to piece together what happened at that 
farm. Questions are being raised, including:

- - How was it that four relatively inexperienced constables were left to 
ultimately face a man 'well known' to police?

- - Why was the national gun-registry program so ineffective at keeping 
weapons out of the hands of a man with a track record of violence and crime?

- - Why is Canada such a haven for grow operations which have been linked to 
organized crime?

What is evident is the frustration law-enforcement officials feel in 
dealing with an increasing number of marijuana grow-operations across the 

While the numbers show that British Columbia and Quebec lead the country in 
numbers of these illegal operations, Ontario is certainly no slacker. Some 
estimates put the number as high as 15,000 in this province.

"It's a huge problem," said Elbers.

In Central Ontario, the rural nature of the region aids and abets the 
growth of grow-ops in corn fields and other 'camouflaged' sites.

Every year, officers from local police services search on land and from the 
air for grow-ops.

In 2000, about 150 outdoor marijuana plots, with drugs worth $88 million, 
were found provincewide. An additional $500,000 in property was seized.

Generally, police peg the value of marijuana plants at $1,000 each. "When 
we give a value, it's at the bottom end of the scale," said Elbers.

Grow-op investigations make up the bulk of work for local drug officers, 
said Elbers, and tips from the public are valuable tools.

Pot today is much more potent than 30 years ago. THC levels, which gives 
the plant its drug properties, have increased from three per cent to as 
high as 30 per cent. The 'quality' of Canadian pot makes it a valued 
product to produce, with most of it going to the States. It's big business. 
While Canadian pot heads south, growers bring back cash, cocaine and 
weapons, making Canadian streets and communities less safe.

Elbers blames light sentences for the rapid growth of grow-ops. Several 
years ago, police spotted acres and acres of plants just north of Barrie. 
It was deemed Ontario's largest pot bust at that time. It took 15 officers 
a day to chop down all the plants. The grower was sentenced to 30 months in 
jail. Others have received nothing more than house arrest or suspended 

Currently, the law is similar for the person who grows 10 or 1,000 plants. 
South of the border, the courts deal much more harshly with growers.

"In the U.S., it's jail time," said Elbers. "If there isn't any jail time, 
then there isn't much of a deterrent. The risk is low and the reward makes 
it very attractive."

Elbers said he was encouraged by the stiffer sentences handed out to the 
'farmers' who were charged for their involvement with the grow operation at 
the former Molson plant. Seven of the men found inside by officers a year 
ago January, pleaded guilty in December. Their sentences ranged from two 
years house arrest to five years in jail.

Officers seized 25,000 plants at the old brewery, and another 5,000 plants 
at a building just north of Barrie, making it the largest indoor grow-op in 
Canadian history.

Even though the finger which first pointed at grow-ops after last week's 
shootings, is now pointing elsewhere, police hope the public is finally 
seeing these operations as serious business.

"I can only hope the courts will starting taking it more seriously," said 
Elbers. "Everyone needs to sit up and take notice of what is going on."
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