HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot Grower Tells How He Makes Millions
Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jan 2004
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2004 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Gary Francoeur
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


30-year-old does no legitimate work but has income of several thousand a

The wind is chilly and snow is falling. Stephane's harvest has come and
gone. But his produce isn't lettuce or tomatoes, which might explain why he
says he carries a gun.

His business is marijuana, and it can be deadly.

Stephane - not his real name - has been making a luxurious living growing
and trafficking marijuana for most of the past decade. The 30-year-old
doesn't have a real job, yet he owns a nice home, drives a brand-new SUV and
says he earns several thousand dollars a week.

The rewards are immense - a million-dollar annual harvest with minimal
expenses. And though Stephane risks jail, he has not been caught yet.

"Growing marijuana's an art," he said. "Anyone can grow marijuana, but very
few actually know how to grow good marijuana."

Clearly someone who's proud of his work, Stephane took the exceptional step
recently of explaining how his illicit business works - obviously making
certain he didn't say enough to put police on his trail.

The work for next fall's outdoor harvest starts about now, he explained,
amid the first snowfalls of winter.

Stephane and his partner hunt for spots to plant their crop, usually in
isolated fields not too far from Montreal. He refused to give a precise

Once locations have been selected, trees and shrubs are cut down to clear a
patch. It's important to do this during winter, Stephane said, so plant
roots freeze and die, and don't later interfere with the growing process.

The partners use snowmobiles to transport the necessary materials to the
remote spots. One patch usually requires 500 bags of earth, 25 sacks of
sheep manure, 25 pouches of shrimp compost and four bags of bat guano,
available at most hydroponic businesses. The nutrients are mixed with the
earth found in the fields to create a rich base.

Inflatable children's pools are also carted in, then filled with snow and
concealed. When spring comes, the snow melts into the pools and is used at
first to water the marijuana plants.

Marijuana seedlings from Stephane's indoor operations are then transferred
to the field. The plants are transplanted outdoors once they are 10 inches

It's important to scatter the plants among several locations, Stephane

"That way, if you get one or two places busted, you still have the others."

He said he and his partner planted 4,500 plants last spring. They visited
them throughout the summer to water the plants and give them nutrients.

Last fall, Stephane collected his crop from the different patches, always
late at night. At each spot, as a three-man team communicated with
walkie-talkies to track activity on the ground and in the air, others loaded
the cut plants into a 16-cubic-foot truck. It took Stephane and his
associates two trips to haul everything away.

The drug trafficker said he always uses a vehicle less than 3 years old and
in top shape when transporting drugs. It's better to give the cops no excuse
to pull you over, Stephane said.

"A lot of people don't follow that rule," he added.

"They tell themselves that if they use an old truck, they won't have their
cars seized if there's a bust.

"They're making a big mistake - an old truck is always suspect."

The plants are taken to a secure home or garage - as clean and isolated as
possible, Stephane emphasized. Six people work 10-hour days trimming, drying
and packaging the marijuana. He said he pays his employees $8 an hour and
buys them lunch. One job perk is free weed, he noted.

A strong ventilation system is crucial to the drying process, while a carbon
filter system eliminates odours.

Stephane said the carbon filter system cost him $5,000 but is worth every
penny. Otherwise, the strong smell of marijuana is likely to attract
unwanted attention.

The "trims" - the stalk, leaves and anything else without value on the
plants - are then dumped at a predetermined spot in the wilderness.

"It's not when you have 50 pounds of trims sitting in the back of your car
that you start driving around for a place," Stephane said.

Then comes the tricky part: smuggling 1,200 pounds of high-grade cannabis
across the U.S. border under security heightened since the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001.

Stephane sends all his outdoor crop - not as potent as his indoor variety -
to the U.S. because he gets a higher price there.

To get past border guards, Stephane said, he opened a company under a fake
name. The marijuana is wrapped and concealed in five-gallon plastic
containers, complete with rubber seals to keep the smell in check.

Stephane said he had fake logos put on the outside of the truck and
containers to make the business look legitimate. His driver used a delivery
order for a business in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to get across the border.

"It's complicated, but you have no choice if you want to get merchandise
across the border," Stephane said.

"Everything is checked."

Stephane's outdoor operations yielded about 1,200 pounds of pot last year.
He said he sold each pound of marijuana for about $2,350 Canadian south of
the border.

Expenses for an operation like this add up to only about $50,000, Stephane
said. A quick calculation suggests one harvest yields close to $2.8 million
in profit.

The buyers are members of U.S. organized crime, although he refused to
specify which crime group.

The staggering profits are split between Stephane and his partner. Stephane
said he has his share laundered and invested in legitimate enterprises.

Stephane doesn't see what he does as morally wrong.

"Marijuana is a natural plant with more benefits than just getting stoned,"
he said. "It's not like I'm selling chemicals to children."

Besides, he argued, he's not operating much differently from government or
big business. He's just taking his cut of the pie, he said.

He plans to take next summer off. "You can't push your luck too much," he
said. "Being greedy is not good, and you need to know when to stop and enjoy
the money you already made."

Besides, there's always his indoor marijuana operations to keep his pockets
lined with cash.

Pot Seized in Canada

1994: 6,472 kilograms

1995: 5,500 kilograms

1996: 17,234 kilograms

1997: 50,624 kilograms

1998: 59,598 kilograms

1999: 23,829 kilograms

2000: 21,703 kilograms

2001: 28,746 kilograms

2002: 54,372 kilograms
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