Pubdate: Mon, 12 Apr 2010
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Page: 4
Copyright: 2010 The London Free Press
Author: Randy Richmond
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


After the Bust: From the Grow-Op to the Street

Toronto lawyer Peter Zaduk knows a thing or two about illegal 
marijuana grow-ops - at least defending those charged when the pot 
operations are busted.

In a 22-page paper written about four years ago for fellow defence 
lawyers, he details the many ways a case against an alleged pot 
producer can go off the rails for police and prosecutors.

"It is a fact of life in some jurisdictions that the drug squads are 
overwhelmed by the number of grow houses they uncover," he writes.

Resources are spread thin.

"This leads to corners cut and mistakes made, probably many more than 
in other investigations."

Drug prosecutions are a special challenge, reporter Randy Richmond 
writes. For one thing, everyone involved tends to clam up, making the 
legal battle often as clouded as a room full of pot smokers.

In the largest grow-op bust in Ontario history, involving 9,500 
plants in a warehouse, all four defendants got off because police 
didn't label the keys to the warehouse that were seized or determine 
which person had which key, Zaduk writes.

"It's remarkable how many cases collapse of their own weight as long 
as you don't plead guilty."

Since he wrote that paper, police have learned a few tricks and the 
courts have come down tougher on marijuana operations, Zudak says in 
an interview.

Even so, he adds, defence lawyers also have a few tricks up their 
sleeves. "I have infinite faith in the police to screw up," he quips.

On the other side of the court, federal Crown David Rowcliffe in 
London says drug prosecutions present an interesting challenge.

Drug prosecutions rarely have the luxury of witnesses and must often 
proceed without people caught in the act.

Assault charges, Rowcliffe says, often become a "he-says, she-says, argument."

Drug charges, on the other hand, become cases where "nobody says anything."

It appears that in a legal battle over a grow-op, the outcome is 
often as clouded as a room full of pot smokers.

That makes the initial work on the ground key in the battle against 
grow-ops, says Det. Supt. Ken Heslop, head of the criminal 
investigation unit for London police.

Police still get most of their tips about potential grow-ops -- often 
hidden in ordinary houses -- from neighbours, he says.

It takes weeks of surveillance and investigation just to get a search 
warrant to go into the grow-op.

"It's a bigger package than just getting a warrant, showing up and 
arresting whoever is inside and charging them."

Police have to determine who is doing what in the grow-op, then time 
the search for when an owner or worker is inside. That can take weeks 
of continuous surveillance.

"It's not as if you can do surveillance for two days and then leave 
it for two weeks and come back," Heslop says.

Years ago, the application for a search warrant was a page.

"It's a chronology now of everything you know about the 
investigation, the house, the people. It's a substantial amount of 
time to investigate them, dismantle them and package all the exhibits 
for court.

"It's not a quick process."

Once the legwork is done, police face a series of dangers when 
heading into a grow-op. Rarely does the danger come from the actual 

"There's little resistance most of the time," says a veteran London 
street drug officer. "They know the deal. Most of the time they 
aren't violent."

The dangers come from the operation itself. Officers often have to 
dress in full-length "bunny suits" with gloves and respirator masks 
to fend off the mould and fumes that come with grow-ops.

Amateur wiring for dozens of lights and heaters and fans is always a 
concern, the drug officer says.

"I've been in one house that caught fire while I was in it."

Now and then, police face a booby trap, such as electrified doors and windows.

The traps are usually set for drug rivals, not police, but police and 
fire crews are the ones who suffer, Heslop says.

"These people want to protect their investment. There is a lot of 
competition out there," Heslop says.

Despite the dangers and lengthy investigations, "very seldom do 
people get serious jail time, unless it is a major grow operation or 
they have a past record," Heslop says.

Sentences depend on a range of factors, some of them specific to 
grow-ops, says Rowcliffe.

Crowns will consider the number of plants and evidence of 
long-lasting operations, such as bags of used soil or lengthy hydro 
records, in seeking longer sentences, he says.

Because of fire hazards, Crowns may also push for longer sentences 
for grow-ops in residential areas as opposed to rural areas.

Rowcliffe has brought forward evidence showing how much a home has 
been damaged, and the cost to the mortgage holders.

"Sometimes the courts aren't aware of the serious economic 
consequences of the grows inside the home," he says.

In 22 recent Ontario Court of Appeal cases involving marijuana 
production, the court -- the province's highest -- upheld stiffer 
jail sentences because of violence associated with grow-ops, fire 
risks and the size and sophistication of the operations.

The sentences ranged from three months to two years less a day in 
jail, with most around the one-year range.

As expected, defence lawyer Zaduk thinks sentences are far from 
lenient, and have gotten longer in the past five years, now 
surpassing those given for some assaults, robberies and thefts.

"Police have a propaganda machine that exaggerates the severity of 
the problem."

Canadians used to have a benign view of marijuana grows.

Now, thanks to the federal Conservatives' law-and-order push, 
"they're seen as a plague on society," Zaduk says.

In the 250 grow cases he's defended, only one involved a violent 
arrest and only a handful of fires caused by bad wiring, Zaduk says.

The sentences are bad enough, but now courts and municipalities are 
going after the houses of the accused, he says.

Cities such as Toronto slap expensive work orders on any houses used 
as grow-ops, and some banks call in their mortgages as soon as 
someone is accused, he says.

In many of his cases, the accused have agreed to let "bigger players" 
use their homes for growing marijuana, Zaduk says. Police and the 
courts nab the bit players and take their houses and cars, while 
letting the operators who run the "franchise" get away.

But Rowcliffe and Heslop argue the seizure of houses, cars, marijuana 
and cash are key deterrents in stopping an illegal and dangerous activity.

"The only way you are going to hurt people that do this is attack 
them in the pocketbook," Heslop says. "They're operating grow-ops to 
make money and that's what you have to stop."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom