HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Seek More Power To Shut Down Pot Houses
Pubdate: Wed, 27 Nov 2002
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 Times Colonist


OTTAWA -- Houses devoted exclusively to growing illicit marijuana, a 
fixture on the West Coast, have spread like weeds across the country and 
now number in the thousands, police said Tuesday.

At least 50,000 houses in Canada have been converted into marijuana 
factories, officers said. They range from mansions in tony neighbourhoods 
to modest houses on ramshackle streets.

Officials representing law enforcement, and the electricity and real estate 
industries -- conceding they are losing the battle against "this present 
and clear danger" -- came to Parliament Hill on Tuesday to call for an end 
to lax criminal sanctions against growers.

"This is a community safety issue," said David Griffin, executive director 
of the Canadian Police Association. "What this means to the public is theft 
of hydro, your insurance rates are affected and not the least of our 
concerns is the drug trafficking that is going on in our communities."

Police provided a detailed picture of the "grow houses," which they say are 
typically set up in suburban homes on the outskirts of Canada's largest cities.

What started as a West Coast phenomenon, often around Victoria and 
Vancouver, a decade ago spread across the Prairies to Central Canada about 
two years ago, and now the houses are starting to crop up in the Atlantic 

"They are everywhere," said Staff Sgt. Marc Pinault of Ottawa, the RCMP's 
new national grow operations co-ordinator.

The growers do not normally live on the premises, but some hire decoy 
families to either live in the homes or drop by often enough to keep police 
and neighbours at bay.

The homes are often equipped with TVs and lights that are programmed to 
come on daily. The lawns are cut and snow is removed regularly.

But there are clues that something is amiss, police said. The windows and 
curtains are always closed. The smell can be pungent. Growers often smash 
large holes in the concrete foundation to route underground cables.

The hydro industry says that consumers are paying the price because growers 
illegally tap into the power supply for the massive quantities of 
electricity they need to operate high-voltage lamps and maintain hothouse 
temperatures, draining the system of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Another concern is that the operations release chemical toxins and fumes 
and the houses are a fire hazard, with their mass often-overloaded heating 
and wiring systems.

The insurance industry says the fire risk could lead to a general rate 

The grow operations now bring in billions of dollars in profit annually. 
Police say that 95 per cent of the operations are run by criminal gangs, 
who smuggle their marijuana to the U.S. for sale.

In Ontario, it is estimated that residential growing operations are a 
$1-billion annual business. There are about 10,000 grow houses in the 
Toronto area alone.

British Columbia remains the country's marijuana-growing capital, where the 
annual business is estimated as high as $6 billion.

The business is not confined to run-down rental properties. Growers are 
increasingly buying homes, and in some cases entire blocks are devoted to 
the lucrative business.

Police say they are particularly worried about children who live in the 
homes, which they say are death traps.

In a national sweep last week, in which $73 million worth of plants was 
seized, authorities also found 43 children aged four months to 17 years old.

Officials complained Tuesday that when growers are caught, it is common for 
judges to impose fines or conditional sentences served at home instead of 
jail terms.

Growers, who can easily each take in $1 million in profit annually, see the 
penalty simply as the cost of doing business.

"Right now criminals are thumbing their nose," Dan McTeague, a Liberal MP 
from the Toronto-area constituency of Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge, said Tuesday.

Solicitor General Wayne Easter conceded in the House of Commons that "we do 
need to do more" to fight the problem.
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