Pubdate: Sat, 10 Apr 2010
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The London Free Press
Page: 13
Author: Randy Richmond


The Customers: An Inside Look At London's Marijuana Trade

Exported to the U.S., to rave customer reviews, the huge pot crop 
secretly grown in London homes fuels crime and trade in harder drugs 
back home, Randy Richmond reports. Police are left to close the 
dangerous loop on the 'vicious circle.'

The smoker and the drug cop see the different sides of London marijuana.

The smoker offers this critique on a website, at "Beautiful . . . simply beautiful. Very intense 
rich coverage and covered in multi-shade orange hairs," writes the reviewer.

The reviewer describes the marijuana bud's "rock hard sticky-icky 
dankness" and its "tastes of strawberry and grape candy mixed with turpentine."

Then he gets to the heart of what makes Canadian marijuana, this 
particular bud supplied from London, so popular in the United States.

"Buzz type: Immediate and intense. Hits you HARD in the head. Very 
euphoric and great for socializing . . ."

Compare that critique to these comments from a London police officer, 
a veteran member of the force's drug unit.

"There are more guns and there is more cocaine than there used to be," he says.

Fifteen years ago, every now and then, police heading out on the 
streets would be advised a suspect was carrying a gun.

"Now you get that information every day."

That irony of the marijuana trade isn't lost on local police.

The same qualities that make London marijuana popular with U.S. 
customers seeking peaceful, pleasant highs are bringing guns, cocaine 
and violence into this city, police say.

"Initially, when you think of marijuana you think . . . I wouldn't 
say harmless . . but it's down on the pecking scale of drugs," says 
Det. Supt. Ken Heslop, head of London's criminal investigation unit.

"When you crunch the numbers . . . there is a substantial amount of 
marijuana leaving the city and coming back as illegal firearms, 
cocaine, amphetamines. And what does that do when it comes back here? 
Crime rates go up. People get hurt."

London police are on a pace to bust a record number of illegal 
grow-ops in the city this year.

A few years back, they averaged about 25 busts a year.

That shot up to 42 last year and may reach more than 50 this year, police say.

Like any growing business, the marijuana trade here relies on a lot 
of customers, a product in demand and the ability to get that product 
to the customers.

An hour's drive from London, the customers number in the millions.

According to the U.S. 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an 
estimated 102 million Americans aged 12 or older had tried marijuana 
at least once in their lifetimes -- or 41% of the population.

The number of marijuana users in 2008 was about 25.8 million, or 
10.3% of the population aged 12 or older.

Marijuana shows no signs of losing its spot as the most popular 
illicit drug in the U.S.

According to U.S. drug agency reports, American customers are 
demanding more potent marijuana.

The suppliers have met that demand.

The chemical in marijuana that produces the high is called 
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

The levels of THC in marijuana seized by U.S. police - from Canadian, 
Mexican and domestic suppliers -- have been rising steadily for decades.

In 1983, average levels were under 4%, according the University of 
Mississippi's Potency Monitoring Project.

In 2008, average levels had reached 10.1%.

Most of the marijuana smuggled into the U.S. comes from Mexico, police say.

But Canada also provides its popular, high-grade marijuana, with 
Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec the biggest producers.

In Ontario, the major smuggling routes are from Southwestern Ontario 
into Michigan, and from eastern Ontario into New York state, police say.

Over the past four years, Ontario smugglers have used planes, 
transport trailers, vans and cars with hidden compartments to smuggle 
dope into the U.S.

In one case, the hidden compartments were relieved of marijuana and 
filled with guns and cocaine.

An average commercial grow-op with 400 plants can produce four 
harvests a year, each harvest bringing in $400,000 in gross revenue, 
Heslop says.

"What does $400,000 buy you when it comes back?" he says. "We know 
many guns are coming from the United States. We know cocaine is 
coming back. It is the drug of choice for the drug culture here. What 
happens when cocaine and guns come back into the city? Street rips go 
up. Robberies go up. Assaults go up. Property crime goes up."

Canadian marijuana for U.S. customers. U.S. cocaine and guns for 
Canadian customers.

"It's a vicious circle," Heslop says.

- --- --- ---


$1.6 million: Amount a typical London grow-op can generate each year.

$11 million: Value of plants and pot seized in a two-address raid in 
Grey County this week.

10,600: Number of plants seized in the bust.

50+: Number of grow-ops, a record, London police on track to bust this year.

42: Number busted last year.

1,390: Number of plants in largest London bust so far this year.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart