Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 2009
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Cops Recommending More Charges As Case Numbers Decline

The number of marijuana growing operations dismantled by the Vancouver
Police Department has dropped significantly in the past decade.

Statistics released to the Courier show police have so far busted 47
grow-ops this year as compared to 455 for all of 2001. The drop has
been steady, with 224 dismantled in 2004 and 89 in 2007.

Sgt. Neil Munro of the department's Growbusters team pointed to two
reasons for the decline--ongoing enforcement has made the city less
desirable for growers, and those growers still here have developed
methods to better hide their operations.

"There are people who are growing now in Saskatchewan who were
originally arrested in Vancouver five or six years ago," Munro said.

Of the 47 grow-ops busted, police seized 26,443 plants and recommended
44 charges. Most of the busts occurred in houses, including one in the
2900-block of East Fifth Avenue where police removed 3,620 plants.

In previous years, the VPD's Growbusters program was criticized for
rarely recommending charges when it busted a grow-op. But Munro said
the focus in the early part of the decade was to rid the grow-ops from
neighbourhoods and move on to the next one.

"There was just so many, they couldn't keep up," said Munro, pointing
out police busted up to 10 houses per day.

Previously, grow-ops were easier to identify. But the days of
dilapidated houses, with blacked out windows, overgrown yards and the
strong skunky smell of marijuana are rare, Munro said.

Growers have become smarter about how they conceal a

Investigators have busted grow-ops where growers have essentially
built a house within a house.

"All the windows have a facade outside," Munro said. "So when you look
in, it's like you're looking into a kid's bedroom. They'll have toys
and that in the window and when you actually get in there, that room
only goes back about three or four feet from the window."

Gone too are the mom-and-pop marijuana operations, said Munro, noting
organized criminals are behind the grow-ops. Police showed the scale
of the marijuana trade in July when it revealed Project Trapdoor.

The project focused on two houses in the 3200-block Renfrew Street and
4800-block Knight Street. The houses were used as "transfer houses,"
where marijuana was packaged and sold.

Police said more than 70 vehicles were observed at one of the houses.
Police stopped one vehicle, seized 24 pounds of marijuana and
recovered US$40,000 from another car.

With grow-ops in the city producing an average of 500 plants, and a
pound of marijuana fetching $1,200 to $1,800, the attraction for
organized crime is evident--it's lucrative, Munro said.

Part of the VPD's approach to stemming the proliferation includes
seizing assets from growers including cash, cars and houses. The
Growbusters team now has a dedicated officer in charge of seizing
property. The VPD has referred 31 houses, most of which are tied to
the marijuana trade, to the B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office in Victoria.
Another five houses are included in criminal court

Munro said he doesn't have time to track the range of penalties
growers receive in the courts. However, he said, investigations have
shown some suspects who have gone through the courts are later tied to
other grow-ops.

Since grow-ops became popular in the late 1990s, police have been told
there were 10,000 operations in the city. Munro was told the same
number recently by a grower. "I mean this is my job and I don't know
how many are out there. I can just deal with one when we get one. We
go after it, and that's that." 
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