Pubdate: Mon, 29 Oct 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Ian Fairclough, Valley Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Mounties Make Marijuana Hauls

RICH BLACK earth laced with white fertilizer pellets  explodes into 
the air as RCMP officers beat bushy green  marijuana plants against 
trees to loosen the soil from  the roots. Some whoop in delight, 
confident that they  have found several dozen marijuana plants 
belonging to  a grower who has been a thorn in their side for years.

It's near the end of the first day of the annual fall  marijuana 
harvest in Kings County, when police go out  in search of the 
marijuana plants that are the hidden  cash crop in the 
agriculture-rich Annapolis Valley.

Police use a combination of intelligence gathered on  the streets, 
tips from the public and good luck.

The harvest, which lasts for about two months in the  fall, is meant 
to get the mature plants before they can  be harvested, dried and on 
the streets in the hands of  dealers. Police also say that can help 
reduce the  number of break and enters, because if the supply  drops, 
users in the local area won't be stealing as  much to feed their habit.

"There's a definite connection," Const. Craig Foley says.

He's been on several of these harvests and says growers  will go to 
extraordinary lengths to try to hide their  plants. They might be 
behind piles of car parts or deep  in thick brush. But those measures 
won't do much good  on this day, because along with the seven members 
on  the ground, there will be two in a different location  -- 
overhead in an RCMP helicopter.

Pilot Cpl. Tom Reid has made the short trip over to  Kings County 
Municipal Airport from his base in Moncton  and is waiting for Const. 
Al Philpott to arrive. They  have time for a short chat before taking 
to the air, as  the chopper can make the run to the first search site 
on the South Mountain in less than 10 minutes, while  the crew on the 
ground needs about a half-hour to get  there.

There are several sites the team is targeting on this  day. Members 
have been out earlier setting co-ordinates  for their GPS systems 
based on tips or gathered  information. The chopper then uses them to 
fly to the  right area and begin looking for plants from overhead.

The first site is supposed to have several plants  scattered across a 
large property, but the only ones  found are in thick brush and trees 
between Highway 12  and the front yard. They're well-hidden, but 
after a  couple of passes with the chopper, Cpl. Reid has picked  the 
plants out from the surrounding darker green  foliage. It's not easy 
to do for a beginner, but after  nine years of piloting with the 
force, he's quick to  spot the bushy plants.

While the ground team members load the seized plants  into their 
trucks and their ATVs back onto the trailers  once they've determined 
there are no more to be found,  the chopper starts heading for the 
next site on the  list. But with time to kill, Cpl. Reid flies over a 
few  backyards and heavily wooded areas. Just because there  are no 
tips on other nearby areas doesn't mean there  aren't any plants.

Sure enough, just two kilometres down the road, he sees  nine plants 
scattered in a backyard in large plant  pots. These ones stick out 
like sore thumbs against the  lawn, and the team pulls them out, 
shakes the soil  loose quickly and fires them into the back of the truck.

Meanwhile, the chopper heads across the street, and  Cpl. Reid finds 
another plant or two growing behind a  shed in a cluster of bushes. 
He directs a couple of  members of the team there.

"We'll have to stop looking or we'll never get to site  No. 2," he 
says.He starts toward that site, the home of  another known grower 
with a heavily wooded property  along a lake. He's several minutes 
ahead of the ground  team but wants to scout out the property and see 
what  he can find. As he swoops overhead, a man comes running  from 
the woods behind the house.

"He must be in a hurry, he ran right through the screen  door without 
opening it," Cpl. Reid says. The man then  bolts out the front door 
and into a white pickup truck  with another person and they take off 
down the highway  heading toward Kentville. It's a lucky break for 
the driver, as the ground team is coming from the other  direction.

The chopper follows for about four minutes, but with  fuel running 
low, the aerial pursuit is abandoned and  it's left to any other RCMP 
cars in the vicinity to  look for the vehicle.

The truck has turned off somewhere, though, and the  driver avoids 
identification. But arrests aren't the  aim of the harvest, just the 
removal of the drugs  before they hit the street.

To do otherwise would take too much in the way of  resources for 
surveillance to determine who is visiting  a site, as it could be 
days before someone shows up.  Their location is not always a clue, 
as many people  plant their marijuana on Crown land or private 
property  where there isn't a lot of foot traffic. If the 
grow  operation involves a large number of plants, however, a  full 
investigation would be underway and arrests made.

The last stop of the day, where the plants seem to be  those of the 
grower they have long been after, is a  prime example. The chopper 
has spotted them easily, but  the route to them involves driving 
through thatches of  trees where the ATV path seems to end. Tree 
branches whip the faces of members on the vehicles before they  get 
off and fan out through woods in search of the  scattered plants.

The seized plants fill the front cargo racks of the  four ATVs, 
including one plant full of buds that Const.  Foley calls "the 
best-looking plant I've ever seen."

In all that day, Kings RCMP seized 310 plants, and had  a few 
thousand for the fall. That doesn't include the  550 pounds of dried 
marijuana taken in a couple of  seizures.

An estimated 6,000 plants were pulled out of the ground  across the 
province this fall. With the plants  potentially worth up to $2,000 
at maturity, that takes  about $12 million in marijuana off the 
streets, police  say.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman