Pubdate: Tue, 14 Feb 2012
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2012 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: Dan Freedman


Mounties Look to Quash Indoor Operations and Stop Trafficking

WASHINGTON - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are attempting to 
reduce the amount of Canadian marijuana flowing into the U.S. by 
focusing public attention on grow ops - clandestine indoor operations 
that cultivate high-potency pot.

"Marijuana and the grow ops are jet fuel for organized crime," said 
RCMP Superintendent Eric Slinn, the force's drug branch director. "If 
we bring down the amount of grow ops, we diminish the amount of 
marijuana that travels southbound across the border."

Slinn and two colleagues from the Mounties met last week with the 
Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies, 
as well as briefings on Capitol Hill.

Drug trafficking across the U.S.-Canada border is a two-way street, 
with Canadian-made hydroponic marijuana and ecstasy tablets flooding 
the huge U.S. drug market while guns and cocaine are smuggled 
northward from the U.S. into Canada.

The U.S. Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy, issued last month 
by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug czar, 
reported that Canadian drug gangs use revenues from trafficking 
marijuana and ecstasy into the U.S. to buy cocaine for resale in 
Canada at a profit of over 50 percent. Crime groups also exchange 
drugs for guns.

The RCMP's anti-marijuana program, the Marijuana Grow Initiative, is 
aimed at organized crime groups that retrofit homes often in suburban 
neighborhoods with sophisticated lighting, irrigation and ventilation 
systems plus chemicals to maximize marijuana yield.

The gangs, which range from Chinese and Vietnamese ethnic 
organizations that operate in British Columbia to motorcycle gangs 
and traditional Italian or Irish organized crime groups in Ontario 
and Quebec, show no compunction about damaging property to produce 
their wares, Slinn said.

Chemicals seep through walls and insulation, producing high levels of 
mold that are hazardous to health, he said.

In addition, he said, gangs often raid competitors' grow sites to 
seize their crops. Sometimes they go to the wrong address and end up 
terrorizing innocent families.

"We can get off into a debate about whether smoking marijuana is bad 
for you," Slinn said, but there is little dispute that "growing 
marijuana is posing significant health and safety issues for 
law-abiding Canadians."

The U.S. foreclosure crisis and the relatively reduced risk of indoor 
growing could lead to an increase in grow ops in the States.

The strategy behind Canada's initiative involves dollops of 
deterrence and law enforcement but the most significant ingredient, 
Slinn said, is working with "stakeholders" who may not realize the 
negative impact of marijuana grow ops.

These include electric power companies, which lose revenue because 
gangs rarely pay for the high amounts of power their operations 
consume, and insurers and homeowners who unwittingly rent to growers. 
They are stuck with bills for fixing mold-encrusted homes.

Law enforcement "is not the right messenger," Slinn said, so the 
strategy aims at highlighting the stories of grow ops victims in 
order to encourage citizen whistle-blowing on indoor marijuana sites.

"While it's a Canadian strategy, one of the reasons for our coming 
down here was to tell our U.S. colleagues we're doing something about 
marijuana," Slinn said.

The U.S. is the chief transit zone for cocaine coming North from 
Colombia through Mexico and up into Canada. The U.S.-Canada Joint 
Border Threat and Risk Assessment for 2010 noted that since 2005, the 
amount of cocaine seized entering Canada from the U.S. has more than doubled.

"Our concern on the north side of the border with cocaine is it's 
very damaging," Slinn said. "I've seen a lot of lives ruined by crack 
cocaine, and it's not just the user. I'm talking about the rest of the family."

Gun laws in the U.S. are more permissive than those in Canada, so 
gangs illegally import weapons to fuel growing levels of drug 
violence north of the border.

"There's been a marked increase (in drug-related gun violence) over 
the last five years," said RCMP Sgt. Dave Williams, who works in 
street-level drug enforcement in Vancouver. "There's gangland-style shootings."

While U.S.-Canadian law enforcement cooperation remains solid, the 
population difference between the two nations virtually guarantees 
the U.S. will remain a target for Canadian traffickers.

"It's simple economics," Slinn said, noting that the U.S. population 
of 307 million dwarfs Canada's population of 34 million.

Like any business, Canadian organized crime asks only, "Where can I 
sell my product?" Slinn said. "It's all about money."
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