HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Need Publics Help To Clamp Down On Pot Grow
Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jan 2004
Source: Community Press, Quinte Edition, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 February 11 Interactive Publishing Ltd.
Contact: 613-395-2992
Website: http://www.communitypress-online.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1717
Author: Erin McCracken

Belleville

POLICE NEED PUBLIC'S HELP TO CLAMP DOWN ON POT GROW HOUSES

Is there a house along your street that always has the curtains drawn, the 
windows clamped shut at all times and condensation dripping down the inside 
of the glass? Is there only one person who comes to the house periodically 
but there never appears to be anyone living there? Does the snow in 
wintertime pile up in the driveway or is the grass always overgrown in the 
summer?

Or far more telling  do you smell the pungently sweet smell of marijuana 
in the air? If you do then you may have a marijuana grow house in your 
neighbourhood and police will want to know about it. Left unchecked, 
illegal drug operations allow organized crime to become entrenched in a 
community and the Quinte area is no exception. In fact, outlaw motorcycle 
gangs, such as the Hells Angels, are already represented here, according to 
the person in charge of the Belleville Police Service's drug and 
intelligence unit. "Why not?" said Staff Sergeant Mike Graham who also 
co-coordinates the region's anti-drug joint forces operation, Project 
Longarm. "No area is immune to it. Anybody could decide to set up shop."

In fact, Longarm efforts have clamped down on between 15 and 20 large-scale 
indoor commercial pot grow houses in the last couple of years in the 
Napanee area and throughout Hastings and Prince Edward counties. Two of the 
larger illegal grow houses operating out of two brand new homes in the 
Stanley Park Subdivision were shut down by police in Belleville in 
December, 2002; three arrests were made, more than 1,000 marijuana plants 
were seized and the theft of hydro was valued at $23,000. In addition, the 
estimated street value of the seized drugs and property was more than 
$1-million.

A reality check on the marijuana situation was recently delivered by the 
Belleville Police Service Tuesday responding to a major new study, compiled 
by police intelligence sources throughout the province. Entitled Green 
Tide: Indoor Marihuana Cultivation and Its Impact On Ontario, the document 
reveals big numbers that spell bad news for both rural and urban 
communities across the province. The large-scale grow operations, in which 
hundreds of pot plants are being cultivated for sale, are costing consumers 
millions of dollars in stolen electricity and higher insurance costs.

According to the report, an estimated $85-million worth of electricity was 
stolen in 2002 alone to feed grow operations throughout the province.

And the number of these commercial indoor grow operations are on the rise. 
The 56-page Green Tide report reveals that between 2000 and 2002 the number 
of operations increased by 250 per cent. Not only that, grow houses 
produced and housed at least 1.2 million kilograms of marketable pot and 
related products generating $12.7-billion in revenue; stats show 15,000 
grow houses were in operation and 1.2 million plants were seized in 2002.

The danger of the marijuana drug trade can touch every community, including 
the Quinte region. There is tremendous potential for fire to start in a 
grow house where high-intensity heat lamps are used to feed the 
tropics-loving plants. "In a lot of (grow) houses people do their own 
wiring," Staff Sergeant Graham said. The grow house operators bypass the 
hydro meters so their suspiciously high usage won't be detected. Such 
actions have resulted in $200,000 to $300,000 homes burning to the ground 
elsewhere. A couple of years ago in Belleville a small marijuana grow house 
operation with 20 or 30 pot plants resulted in fire and $20,000 to $30,000 
in damages to the house, the drug investigator said. According to the Green 
Tide report the chance of fire breaking out in a grow house is 40 times 
higher than in a regular home.

The Green Tide report, released by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of 
Police, also reveals that as many as 10,000 children and their families may 
have lived in grow houses to tend to the marijuana crops between 2000 and 
2003. "Often recent immigrants, they are exposed to health and safety risks 
and physical violence associated with these operations," a media release on 
the study states. Their health is also put in jeopardy not only by fire but 
also from the unsafe storage of toxic chemicals and fertilizers used to 
feed the pot plants. The substantial buildup of mildew and condensation in 
these large-scale grow houses further makes the premises unsafe as well as 
uninhabitable for adults and children, Graham explained.

Danger also lurks in the form of money and power-hungry organized crime 
rings which appear to be directly linked to the expansion of the 
industrial-scale marijuana operations. "These criminal groups are 
well-organized, well-financed and ruthless in pursuit of their business," 
said Belleville Police Chief Steve Tanner in a recent statement to the 
media. He plans to solicit commitments from local elected officials and 
business leaders to help police educate the public on the subject as well 
as come up with a plan of action to stop the grow houses from spreading 
further still.

There's certainly plenty of money at stake. Staff Sergeant Graham said the 
current market value of a single marijuana plant is $1,000 once the 
material is dried out and sold in gram quantities. "It's a serious business 
with the violence and everything else," the Longarm co-coordinator 
revealed. As such, there is serious and potentially deadly competition 
between dealers and growers and local residents could become caught in the 
middle. "One of the groups will rip another off," the staff sergeant said. 
Other types of illegal drug activity are just as dangerous and have local 
police just as concerned. Two Toronto residents were recently arrested on 
separate occasions but in the same week in Belleville for trafficking crack 
cocaine and possessing loaded guns. "Crack cocaine is really a concern," 
said Graham, because of the very real possibility of violence. "We're 
seeing a ton of it here."
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