Pubdate: Fri, 16 Oct 2009
Source: Innisfil Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 Sun Media
Author: Raymond Bowe
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Marijuana harvest season is in full swing, which means drug cops are also
out in force hoping to stem the tidal wave of weed hitting the streets
this fall.

The Central North Drug Unit -- which covers a massive area in the heart of
Ontario -- has eradicated 34 plots in Simcoe County, including almost
21,000 plants, since June. That's in addition to the 5,100 plants in
Muskoka District, 1,500 in Dufferin County and 200 in Peel Region.

The estimated street value so far this growing season is more than $27.6

That's one of the best years on record, said unit commander Staff Sgt.
Clint Hunter.

"This year's increase was over 200%," said Hunter, who took over the unit
in May. "Every year, (our) guys get a little more experience and they get
a little better at it."

Police have arrested and charged 20 people this year in relation to four
of the 50 marijuana plots, and eradication efforts will continue this

In 2008, Central North Drug Unit officers descended upon 17 marijuana
plots and seized 3,000 plants, but no one was arrested or charged.

"The problem hasn't gotten any smaller," said Hunter, who has been a
police officer for 24 years. "It's a significant issue and it's not going
away. We devote a lot of resources -- time and money -- to the issue."

But it also begs the question: what happens to the plants? For security
reasons, Hunter said he is unable to provide a location or speak
specifically about disposal techniques, because criminals could also
benefit from that information.

The drug unit's eradication program typically begins in June, with the
search for seedlings and young plants -- which can be more difficult to
find due to their diminutive size -- to the harvest season in early fall
when the plants are fully grown and easier to spot.

Due to Simcoe County's large rural area, it's "rife" with marijuana
plantations, Hunter said, although he added that city landscapes are just
as likely to have marijuana plants growing somewhere outdoors.

"This is not about a person smoking a doobie in their backyard," Hunter
said. "It's about big business.

"The province of Ontario is a rich playground for the bad guys," he said,
adding dope plants have been found everywhere, from apple orchards and
cornfields to just off the beaten track near heavily padded hiking trails.
"There's a lot of money to be made and it's shipped across the world."

The Central North Drug Unit's geographic coverage area includes Simcoe and
Dufferin counties, Muskoka District and parts of Peel Region. Essentially,
it stretches from Huntsville down to the Peel Region-Toronto border in the
Caledon area. From west to east, it also goes from this side of Lake
Simcoe over to the Meaford area where a different unit then takes over

"This drug unit looks after most of Ontario," Hunter said. "It's a big area."

The unit -- which includes assigned enforcement officers in addition to
officers based at specific detachments -- is deployed out of Orillia. It
also includes officers from Rama police and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Specialized officers are also brought in from the tactical support,
emergency response and canine units to help with some of the grow-ops,
many of which can be booby-trapped or patrolled by armed guards, Hunter

Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft are also used to locate marijuana
plots, but it's strictly eyes in the air, Hunter said. Infrared imaging
isn't being used yet.

The staff sergeant said he was not at liberty to discuss investigative
techniques, or whether the unit could get infrared imaging.

"My officers are well trained using the necessary tools available," he said.

Not only are police out looking for plants, but the unit also acts on tips
that come in through Crime Stoppers (1-800-222- TIPS) and from members of
the general public who may have stumbled across a plantation or who have
information about one's location.


Drug busts so far this season

Between June and September, police officers with the Central North Drug
Unit have been out searching for marijuana plants. So far, 50 plots have
been eradicated in Simcoe and Dufferin counties, Muskoka District and Peel

The breakdown is as follows: Simcoe County -34 plots -20,790 plants
Muskoka District -six plots -5,102 plants Dufferin County -three plots
- -1,516 plants Peel Region -seven plots -216 plants Total -50 plots -27,624
plants Estimated street value: $27,624,000

The Central East Drug Unit also released statistics this week for the
number of marijuana plots its officers had eradicated in September.
Haliburton Highlands -12 plots -5,650 plants City of Kawartha Lakes -11
plots -3,642 plants Northumberland County -20 plots -3,101 plants
Peterborough County -six plots -2,541 plants Total -49 plots -14,934

Officers executed seven drug search warrants and charged 22 people. Police
also seized 14 guns and assorted growing equipment. They also encountered
16 nail-board devices, or booby-traps.

Source: OPP Drug Enforcement Section
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