Pubdate: Fri, 13 Aug, 1999
Source: London Free Press (Canada)
Copyright: 1999 The London Free Press a division of Sun Media Corporation.
Author: John Herbert


Outsmarted last year by some of Southwestern Ontario's devious pot growers,
the joint forces police team blitzing farmers' fields around London this
week won't be publicizing where they expect to find this year's crop.

Last year, growers sometimes beat the cops to the crops.

Staff Sgt. Marty Van Doren, acting commander of the London detachment of
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and head of the detachment's drug unit,
said the joint forces team from Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP and
municipal forces frequently found empty holes where marijuana plants had
been growing.

"We got burned," Van Doren said. "They (growers) were hauling the stuff out
before we got there. We'd get there and all we'd find is empty holes --
lots of them."

Hush is the word this year, Van Doren said.

As a result, police will only say where they've been so far in week two of
their annual eradication blitz, which ends late in September. They finished
up in Lambton County on Wednesday where they pulled an estimated 1,000
full-grown plants with a street value of $100,000.

Yesterday, they were working in the Thorndale area, east of London, where
they will be for the next several days.

Police did not disclose information about what they found.

RCMP Const. Bob Joseph, who is on site daily with a 10-officer team and
helicopter to help locate harvest hot spots in cornfields, said he expects
similar finds to last year and previous years. Last year, RCMP found 5,589
plants in Middlesex, Elgin and Oxford counties and 1,966 in Lambton, Essex
and Kent counties.

Another 12,525 plants were seized in Huron, Grey, Perth and Wellington

The total estimated street value of last year's seizures was about $21 million.

While police say there is community support for their program, which costs
about $200,000 over and above police salaries, critics in recent years have
complained police could better focus resources on hard drug investigations
which result in stiffer court sentences.  They also say dollar figures
announced by police in drug seizures are often debated in courtrooms and
are much lower than police claim.

Police say they are only enforcing the law. They also maintain there is a
connection between marijuana and hard drug use.

Van Doren said the eradication program makes a difference.

"Sure it has an effect, but there's no exact science on it," he said. "If
we didn't do any eradication there'd be much more marijuana, hash and hash
oil on our streets.

The plants are grown in cornfields, along riverbeds and in dense bush.

Joseph said the eradication team is finding more plants in brush areas than
before because it is more difficult for a helicopter to spot them from
overhead than in a cornfield. 
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