HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Gro-Ops Too Many To Raid, Police Say
Pubdate: Wed, 29 Dec 2004
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2004, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Timothy Appleby and John Saunders
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Police Say Hydroponic Marijuana Is A Canadian Growth Industry Grown
Out Of Control

There are so many grow houses in neighbourhoods across the country
that officers leading the fight are focusing on large, gang-run
operations and resigning themselves to seeing countless others go untouched.

It is "certainly true" there are too many to stop, said Superintendent
Derek Ogden, head of the RCMP drug branch, which has set its sights on
those with the muscle, money and distribution channels of organized

"We're firm on that because we know that there are a large number of
operations out there -- obviously thousands across Canada -- and we
have to target the limited resources to the highest echelon," he said
in an interview.

As politicians discuss a bill to soften the law on possession of small
amounts of marijuana (criminal sanctions would give way to fines akin
to traffic tickets), Canada finds itself a centre of large-scale,
high-quality illegal production. That phenomenon, in which Asian gangs
and outlaw bikers play major roles, is driven by fat profits, rising
marijuana use and far lighter penalties than are faced by growers in
the United States, where much of the output ends up.

Supt. Ogden would not try to guess how many operations exist across
the country.

"The only thing I could say is I have no doubt that the number is
increasing and has been increasing over the last number of years," he
said, pointing to what he called "reasonably accurate" statistics on
marijuana plants seized by police. The count rose from 50,000 in 1989
to 1.5 million in 2003, he said.

At a hearing last month for seven men convicted in a record-breaking
bust at a former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ontario Provincial Police
drug specialist Rick Barnum estimated that the province has as many as
25,000 grow-ops, a sharp increase over a previous police estimate that
the number might approach 15,000.

(A year ago, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police issued a
much-cited "Green Tide" report guessing that anywhere from 2,980 to
14,900 grow-ops had been active in the province during 2002. Those
figures were arrived at by taking the number of operations police
found and dismantled -- about 1,490 -- and theorizing that the total
was anywhere between twice and 10 times that number.)

In a recent interview, Detective Staff-Sergeant Barnum said his figure
is a judgment based on talks with municipal police forces, power
companies, real estate agents, building-code officials,
bylaw-enforcement officers and others in a position to see signs of
houses being turned into climate-controlled indoor marijuana
plantations. He said he believes there are as many as 15,000 grow-ops
in the Greater Toronto Area alone.

"I mean, we haven't gone through with our instruments, our FLIRs
[infrared heat sensors] and stuff, and actually counted each house,
but there's certainly a good indication that there's lots of grow
houses out there, an overwhelming number," he said.

"But the point is, if it's 15,000 or even if it's 2,000, it's still
uncontrollable from a policing perspective. That's a phenomenal amount
of work and a phenomenal number [of cases]."

No matter how hard police work to root out individual grow houses, he
said, "it's impossible to get rid of them, there's that many."

In Ottawa, Supt. Ogden said grow houses showed up in British Columbia
in the 1980s and have since spread in a major way to Alberta, Ontario,
Quebec (although more than half of Quebec grow busts are still
outdoors) and the Atlantic provinces.

As part of a five-year, $57-million anti-drug effort launched in 2003,
the RCMP have set up six-member specialist teams to work alongside
local drug squads to fight grow-ops in the Vancouver, Edmonton,
Calgary and Montreal areas. This year, similar teams will arrive in
Ontario and the Atlantic region, Supt. Ogden said.

Part of the job is to persuade people that whatever their views on
marijuana, grow houses are a problem, especially if one shows up next
door, Supt. Ogden said.

"We run a number of operations each year that are international in
scope. They have all aspects that any other drug operation would have.
. . . We seize weapons. We see violence. All the elements are there."

Unknown numbers of children live in grow houses and are exposed to
risks of fire, electrocution and poisoning amid jury-rigged wiring,
fertilizers and pesticides, he said. "It also puts them at risk of
violence. We've seen, especially in Western Canada, a number of drug
ripoffs. People will go into a house and steal a crop . . ."

Police also see cases "where these criminals don't have their
information straight," he said. "They go into the wrong house. They
tie up innocent people. They terrorize people in these homes and those
people are being terrorized as a direct result of grow operations
operating in the community."

If that is not enough, there is the question of real estate values,
with damage to individual houses used by growers running to $30,000,
$40,000, $50,000 and more, he said.

"The wiring is not designed to draw that much electricity," Supt.
Ogden said. "There's fungus growing inside the house. There are
definite fire hazards. . . . When you go in and buy a home, you assume
that it hasn't been used for a grow operation, but, boy, if it has,
you may have a lot of legal difficulties . . .

"It's the same if you have homes that you're renting [to others]. I
mean, if you rent [out] a home in good faith but then find out that an
organization has duped you and used your home [as a grow operation],
that destroys a lot of value in a home in a hurry."

Toronto real estate agent Victor Kerman said buyers should be aware
that a grow house may be back on the market after a few crops.

*Buyer beware*

Clues for spotting houses formerly used as marijuana grow-ops, from
Victor Kerman of Royal LePage Signature Realty:

Indications that walls were put up and subsequently removed. (A wall
may have been erected a few feet back from the front window with a
table and lamp set in the front portion to create the illusion of a
living room while offering privacy for the operator.)

Ceiling repairs and repainting, repairs to the roof, patched subfloors
and new carpeting to hide areas where vent holes were cut.

Excessive moisture in the house, including saturated insulation in the
attic and staining on walls and floors from condensation.

Showers and bathtubs altered for plant watering purposes.

Rust on the furnace and flues or chimneys.

Smell of chemical or fertilizer.

Alterations to electrical, natural gas and/or water lines.
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