Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2016
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network
Author: Bill Kaufmann
Page: A3


Police say most tips from public now lead to pot grown for medicinal

Police in Alberta last year smoked out 125 per cent fewer marijuana
grow ops than they did in 2012, with most of the pot gardens now
detected being legal ones.

They also seized 13,067 pot plants province-wide last year, a whopping
234 per cent decrease from the 43,606 confiscated in 2012, said the
Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, also known as ALERT.

The vast majority of cannabis plants seized last year - about 86 per
cent - were from south of Red Deer.

While those numbers are dramatic enough, the majority of public tips
to police now lead to medicinal marijuana gardens, reflecting the
increasingly murky, fluid nature of the war on cannabis, said Staff
Sgt. Keith Hurley.

"We're seeing more permitted grows than unpermitted grows, the number
of illegal ones are drastically below the permitted operations," said
Hurley, a Calgary Police Service officer in charge of ALERT's southern
Alberta green team.

Many of the legal operations backed by medicinal permits are unsafe
for electrical or mould reasons, said Hurley, who also suspects
they're often fronts for illegal, commercial harvesting.

But because of their legal documentation, there's little he can do,
including take measures to comfort concerned neighbours, he said.

"Imagine how frustrating it is for us to tell people our hands are
tied; there's not much we can do," he said, adding much of his concern
over cannabis is now confined to growing safety.

He said large numbers of plants being grown at a single location with
multiple permits, and the widespread use of prescriptions from the
same physician, lead police to believe many of the officially legal
grow ops are covers for criminal activity.

"It's strange when we find a permit grow; they've still cleaned out
the whole house," said Hurley. "Why would they do that if there's
nothing to hide? "It's definitely suspect." During U.S. Prohibition in
the early 20th century, medical prescriptions were widely used to
procure recreational booze.

Grow-op search warrants executed by ALERT, which says it conducts
about 95 per cent of that activity in the province, dropped to 60 last
year from 105 in 2012.

He acknowledged his unit's work against marijuana is carried out
against a backdrop of spreading legalization in the U.S., a vow by
Ottawa to follow suit, increasing medicinal use and a growing
tolerance for the drug across the continent.

Hurley wouldn't dispute suggestions the war on drugs is a losing one,
but insisted his officers' efforts haven't waned.

"If it's the law, then the enforcement resources will be there, until
such time that changes," he said.

"Do I have a vested interest? I didn't make the regulations."

But he said his six-to seven-officer unit hasn't received increased
resources in recent years.

Earlier this year, Ottawa's law banning medicinal pot users from
growing their own cannabis was struck down in the courts, which gave
the federal government six months to craft new legislation.

Hurley said that move will likely complicate his work even more, but
added he doubts full legalization will come to Canada soon.

"I can see some kind of decriminalization ... it'd really be nice just
to have some clarification on the issue," he said.
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