HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Everyone Pays
Pubdate: Sat, 06 Mar 2004
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 Calgary Herald
Author: Emma Poole
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Stolen Electricity, Structural Damage And Toxic Mould Are Among The 
Byproducts Of Indoor Grow Ops

They say it's a harmless drug -- non-addictive and victimless.

But each time police swoop down on a home and dismantle an indoor marijuana 
grow operation, everyone pays the price.

It's estimated an average grow op consumes 10 times the amount of 
electricity used in a normal home -- electricity stolen from local power 

Hydro bypasses divert electricity away from the main power source by 
tampering with a home's wiring. That prevents power companies from 
detecting which homes are using levels of electricity far beyond normal 
consumption levels.

With the use of high-voltage lights -- usually 1,000-watt halogen lamps -- 
it's estimated the theft of power for an average grow op falls between 
$1,500 and $2,000 a month, according to Ontario Provincial Police.

It's believed hydro theft could have reached the $160-million mark for 2002 
and 2003 in Ontario alone.

Losses attributed to theft of electricity are ultimately paid for by 
legitimate customers, say police.

Statistics are being tracked in Ontario, where it's estimated $50 to $200 a 
year is added to residential electricity bills to make up for the thefts, 
according to the Ontario-based Electricity Distributors Association.

Enmax, Calgary's power provider, won't specify how much electricity is 
believed to be bypassed for illegal grow operations.

Calgary has about 362,000 residential, commercial and industrial power 

Calgary police drug unit Staff Sgt. Trevor Daroux says 95 per cent of all 
grow ops busted in Calgary have used electrical bypasses.

It's inevitable, Daroux said, that consumers in this city are also 
compensating for the illegal activities of others through their power bills.

"We're all faced with paying these costs as well," he said.

To establish a flourishing grow op, most homes are significantly altered to 
accommodate the equipment needed.

Holes are jackhammered into the floors to install nutrient tubs.

Cavities are punched into the ceiling to help expel the high humidity from 
the plants.

Wood floors often split and rot so severely due to the venting that they 
are unable to be walked on.

The damp, warm environment -- prime conditions for growing pot -- produces 
copious amount of mould, much of it toxic.

And, to accommodate the electrical bypass systems, sections of walls are 
often cut through and removed.

"These houses are modified with the specific intent of growing marijuana," 
said Daroux, adding 90 per cent of the crops are grown in dirt.

The modifications can lead to structural disfigurement and create a major 
fire hazard.

"That sort of thing is a danger if it's not addressed," says Jim Hamilton, 
an inspector with HomeCrafters Inc. "I was in a house one time and I went 
into the master bedroom and could have fallen through the floor. "

Hamilton is regularly contracted by the Southern Alberta Marijuana 
Investigation Team, or SAMIT, to inspect homes used as pot farms.

He's seen it all -- yet the sophistication of the house tampering still 
surprises him.

"The biggest thing we see is (the growers) playing around with the vents," 
said Hamilton. "Typically, you'd see the furnace altered the most."

After a grow operation has been busted by police, all of the modifications 
have to be fixed before a home can be sold or rented again.

The unscrupulous, however, simply cover up the damage with plaster and paint.

The Calgary Real Estate Board is working to combat that growing problem, 
said president Don Dickson.

While disclosure statements are not mandatory in Alberta, many realtors 
require vendors to fill them out before they'll list a property.

CREB wants to make it compulsory for home sellers to disclose whether the 
property has ever housed a marijuana grow operation.

With an increasing number of grow-op houses landing on the market following 
bank foreclosures, realtors are wrestling with whether to divulge the 

"There's more of an issue now. We would like the sellers to disclose this, 
but not all of them will," said Kim Fisher, a realtor with Remax.

Before Christmas, Fisher took a client through a for-sale southeast home 
she knew was a former grow-op residence. The home was not indicated as such 
on the selling sheet.

Fisher, although not obligated to do so, told her client about the home's past.

"In the basement, you could see the rings on the concrete. There was 
cracking in the wood," she said.

Despite what could have been a lucrative sale for the longtime real estate 
agent, Fisher said her conscience wouldn't allow her to keep the secret.

"You have to protect your client's best interest," she said.

Calgary police will soon begin teaching realtors how to spot a grow op, 
said Dickson.

The organization wants a private number for real estate agents to call 
police to report a home suspected of housing marijuana.

"Ultimately, (grow operations) are going to affect everyone," Dickson said.

The average cost of repairs to a home damaged by a grow op runs between 
$60,000 and $80,000, he said, adding the costs are then reflected in higher 
insurance and mortgage rates.

For $10,000, a grower can set up a basement weed farm with the potential of 
producing several times that amount in product.

For between $7,000 and $10,000, Calgary police can investigate and tear 
down the same operation.

The cost is essentially covered by taxpayers, say police.

The growing equipment, which can be purchased at garden stores and 
hydroponic growing facilities, is seized by officers during raids and later 

Police used to try to recycle some of the materials, such as donating 
lights to horticulture programs in schools, but found the plan had its faults.

High-powered lamps and other supplies were later found in other clandestine 
grow operations.

"That's why we destroy it. We don't want it coming back into circulation," 
said Daroux.

The widespread effects of marijuana grow operations can be measured in 
dollars, but it's the human toll that often sees the biggest consequences.

Safety and health concerns are harder to quantify, but no less significant.

The combination of overloaded electrical boxes and high moisture rates 
within a home is a disaster waiting to happen, say local officers.

According to a recent Ontario Provincial Police report, titled Green Tide, 
the likelihood of a fire in a marijuana grow op is 40 times higher than in 
an ordinary home.

The cooking of cannabis resin, or "weed oil," is also highly explosive.

The process of creating an amateur bypass, which usually leaves an exposed 
high-voltage wire attached to a hydro meter, poses a big risk to neighbours.

In 2003, nine major Calgary fires were caused by marijuana-grow operations 
or the production of weed oil, says Staff Sgt. Derek Curtis, commander of 
the Calgary police arson unit.

That was a 20 per cent increase over the previous year, he said.

"We've worked very hard to train our partners (the Calgary Fire Department) 
on how to detect these things," said Curtis. "They're starting to be more 
aware of what they're actually seeing."

Furthermore, poisonous fumes -- from toxic mould and chemicals used to 
enhance the plants' growth -- are often vented into the community to 
distract attention away from the crop.

The "skunky" stench is a dead giveaway for the immediate neighbours, so 
weed farmers try to fan the air farther away.

Vents that run underground and are connected to the city's main sewer 
system are common, said Hamilton.

The exhausted air, ripe with fungus spores and gases, is then inhaled every 
day by other residents of the community unaware the air they are breathing 
is tainted.

To increase the carbon dioxide inside the home -- a crop accelerant -- the 
vents are detached from the water heater.

That increases the humidity, which eventually gives rise to black mould -- 
a toxic fungus that causes severe respiratory problems.

"It can live forever in a house. I don't know how you would clean it up," 
said Daroux.

City health inspectors have condemned 18 houses since last June, all of 
which were too unsafe and unhealthy to live in again.

Your new neighbours seem to be very quiet.

They keep to themselves and are rarely seen outside, although lights inside 
go on and off at all times of the day and night.

Then one evening, as you sit watching TV someone kicks in your door and 
ransacks your home.

They're looking for drugs -- but the marijuana crop they want is actually 
next door.

It happens all the time, according to police.

Known as "grow rips," it's not unusual for the home invaders to get the 
wrong address, leaving an innocent family tormented in their wake.

Many grow houses have a full-time keeper, known as a "cropsitter." They are 
responsible for watching over the weed.

Daroux says these men and women are paid large sums of money for little work.

Some are immigrants to Canada and move their families into the house in 
exchange for free food and rent.

They are employed by members of organized crime groups and become an 
integral part of the growing process.

"Everyone is important. Without these growers,

there wouldn't be a grow," Daroux said.

Grow houses are often fortified with booby traps to prevent an ambush.

The front steps of some homes are rigged to collapse if walked on, plunging 
the person above onto a set of metal chair legs designed to impale a body.

One former Calgary Green Team officer found a loaded shotgun pointed at the 
door of a grow-op home. The gun was set to discharge when someone walked in.
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