HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot The Top Crop
Pubdate: Fri, 12 Apr 2002
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Mark Bonokoski
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


$1B a Year in Ontario Marijuana

A huge No Trespassing sign is wired to the fence surrounding the property. 
The gate is chained and padlocked. A white van, allegedly part of the 
proceeds of crime, is locked within the compound.

The place is deserted.

A week ago, All Seasons Hydroponics and Garden Centre, was a bustling 
business in Mississauga, subliminally catering to little old ladies growing 
tomatoes and school kids doing botany projects.

And then came the bust.

"Police sting nets $8M in home-grown marijuana," read the headline, 
followed by a story outlining how a joint task force of Peel, RCMP and OPP 
officers -- code-named Operation Potluck -- took down a huge 
indoor-plantation operation after a 10-month undercover investigation of an 
Asian gang.

Similar headlines have been appearing for months on end, almost as if 
spinning off a loop tape. $500Gs pot lab raided, reads one. Six marijuana 
operations shut down, reads another. $3M in pot seized, a third.

They have become as commonplace as sports scores done in agate, or the java 
script running along the bottom of the television screen on headline news.

All Seasons Hydroponics was apparently a front for some of the players 
arrested in Operation Potluck -- 21 people were charged with cultivation 
and conspiracy offences -- and was therefore "restrained" under proceeds of 
crime legislation.

Every time there's another drug bust, however, every time another 
hydroponic dope-growing operation gets taken down, Alain Brault knows his 
phone will be ringing and that a number of naive, down-on-their-luck losers 
will be paying him a visit in hopes of getting rich quick.

"Those headlines cause me nothing but grief," he says. "There are people 
out there who will see those headlines and, what's wrongly put in their 
heads, etched in their minds? It's that there's a million bucks to be made 
in home-grown marijuana.

Tough to start

"It's unbelievable."

Alain Brault is owner of Jungle Hydroponics, a storefront operation in the 
Gerrard-Main area, as well as the man behind Tar-Zen Tree Service, winner 
of the 2000 Voters' Choice Award in that category, as sponsored by the 
Beach Metro News.

"I don't sell seeds. I don't sell books," he said. "And I do not advise, 
and I do not encourage, any misbehaviour. And, yes, I do get little old 
ladies in here wanting to grow tomatoes.

"But I will still get the occasional police visitor trying to elicit a 
little information -- sometimes about me, sometimes about my customers, 
sometimes about my business," he said.

"But I can spot them almost immediately."

A recent report has Ontario's indoor marijuana industry as the third 
largest agricultural sector in the province, a $1-billion industry 
surpassed (barely) by dairy's $1.3 billion and beef cattle's $1.2 billion. 
Add to that the multi-millions being harvested from outdoor crops and 
marijuana cultivation in this province moves into No. 1 spot on the hit list.

The difference, of course, is that marijuana is an illegal product and the 
government, in turn, cannot reap any taxes from what is being sowed.

The stakes, therefore, are high, and the game increasingly dangerous.

In mid-March, for example, 27-year-old Van Boa Nguyen was trussed up like a 
chicken and shot execution-style in the rented home in Vaughan which he was 
using to grow hydroponic marijuana.

Dangerous game

As Alain Brault puts it, "It's turning into a pretty bad world out there. 
Someone rats on someone and someone gets killed.

"Those are the big boys, not the little guy growing a bit of marijuana in 
his apartment so he doesn't have to risk his life buying a little weed in 
Regent Park or some other place.

"But, hey, I don't ask questions. And, like I said before, I don't advise 

"But it is getting ridiculous."

This country is a long way away from decriminalizing marijuana, of course. 
Candidates for the premiership of this province can admit to smoking dope 
in their younger years and suffer no political consequences, simply because 
it is no longer a perilous confession to make.

On the day All Seasons Hydroponics had its last day of business, 38 search 
warrants were executed throughout the region, five residential grow labs in 
Mississauga were dismantled, 4,000 plants were seized, 176 kilos of 
harvested marijuana were hauled off and $230,000 in Canadian cash was 
collected along with $71,000 in U.S. currency.

And the headlines keep on rolling out.

No end in sight.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Alex