HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html War On Drugs Goes Into Orbit
Pubdate: Mon, 15 Apr 2002
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Jim Bronskill
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


The RCMP Examines Use of Satellites to Track Marijuana Grow-ops

OTTAWA - The RCMP is studying a plan to enlist space satellites in the war 
on illicit drugs.

The Mounties believe satellite technology could help detect and monitor 
illegal marijuana production across Canada.

"It is something that is at the research and development stage to determine 
if there is a practical application," said Sergeant Paul Marsh, an RCMP 

A recent report by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission says 
Canada is pursuing the idea as a new means of estimating the amount of 
cannabis cultivated each year.

Current methods employed by Canada to make these calculations include 
ground surveys, monitoring by airplane, and analysis of data from plant 
seizure reports and crop-eradication programs, says the commission, an 
agency of the Organization of American States that helps co-ordinate the 
anti-drug efforts of the 34 member countries.

"Recently, Canada launched a new program involving the police and the 
Canadian Space Agency to enhance detection and monitoring of illegal crop 
production," says the commission report, an evaluation of Canada's 
initiatives to stamp out illicit drugs.

A spokeswoman for Canada's space agency had no information about the plans 
but Sgt. Marsh confirmed the idea was under consideration. "The RCMP is 
committed to using technological advances which will assist us in reaching 
our objective of safe homes and safe communities," he said.

He provided no details, saying, "it's really premature because it's at the 
R and D stage."

RADARSAT, Canada's advanced Earth observation satellite, has been used to 
measure legitimate crop fields, make accurate maps, study ice movement and 
monitor the coastline. Using a system known as synthetic aperture radar, 
the satellite is able to operate day or night in all types of weather.

The concept of using satellites in the fight against drugs is not new. The 
United Nations International Drug Control Program has also announced plans 
to employ satellite technology as part of an effort to eradicate the 
cannabis plant, cocoa bush and opium poppy by 2008.

About half of the marijuana available in Canada is produced domestically, 
the RCMP says. Conservative estimates indicate at least 800 tonnes of pot 
is grown annually.

Surveillance of crops through airplane flights has proven useful to date, 
Sgt. Marsh said.

"Obviously, there are advantages to aerial surveillance and that's why we 
use aircraft at the present time. There are things that you can see from 
the air, [because] you simply don't have the same perspective from the ground."

However, as the OAS commission report points out, even high-powered 
satellites will not guarantee an accurate measure of Canadian cannabis 

"Canada notes that a complete picture of marijuana cultivation is difficult 
to obtain because a significant portion of cultivation is indoors," the 
report says.

There has been a boom in indoor pot growing operations in recent years, 
particularly in British Columbia, but also in the Prairie provinces, 
Ontario and Quebec.
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