Pubdate: Sat, 09 Apr 2016
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Page: 4
Copyright: 2016 The Calgary Sun
Author: Bill Kaufmann


Pot grow-op busts are way down in Alberta, with most of those smoked 
out now legal gardens, say cops.

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

The vast majority of the cannabis plants seized last year - about 86% 
- - were in the zone 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 un-permitted 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 - why would they do that if there's nothing to hide?" 
said Hurley.

"It's definitely suspect."

During U.S. alcohol 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% of that activity in the province - dropped from 105 in 2012 
to 60 last year.

He acknowledged his unit's work against marijuana is amid 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 6-7 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 any time soon.

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