HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Suburban Grow Ops Not As Seen On TV
Pubdate: Sat, 29 Nov 2008
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2008 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Bartley Kives
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


WHILE wheat and canola farmers struggle with crazy commodity-price
swings and wacky weather, producers of Manitoba's No. 3 cash crop
appear to be immune from the national farm crisis.

Marijuana growers seem to be enjoying excellent market conditions
these days, judging by the sheer number of cultivation operations
busted up by Winnipeg police and rural Mounties.

Go back a decade or two, and grow ops were typically found in remote
or sketchy locations like run-down barns, empty warehouses or dodgy
inner-city homes owned or ignored by absentee landlords.

Today, it's not unusual for cops to find marijuana farms in
pleasant-looking suburban homes, as organized criminals move up from
the inner-city 'hood to Garden City and Linden Woods.

The suburban grow op has become so common that the Free Press Homes
section recently ran a piece about a moisture-damaged
weed-manufacturing facility that had been converted back into a
livable space.

You can practically hear the pitch from the real-estate agent: "And
this room, which used to have a wall of halogen lights and a
hydroponic drip system, would be a perfect place for the twins' bunkbed."

It's tempting to imagine the people behind suburban grow ops were
actual suburbanites, like the widowed housewife in Showtime's Weeds or
the terminally ill high school chemistry teacher in AMC's Breaking

The protagonists of both cable TV series are ordinary people who turn
to dealing marijuana and cooking up crystal meth, respectively, after
encountering some life-changing form of personal hardship.

But TV shows have to make their characters likable in some way,
otherwise nobody would watch them. The middle-aged, middle-class
protagonists of Weeds and Breaking Bad are merely modern
manifestations of a very old dramatic archetype: The lifelong loser
who finds empowerment or even salvation in a series of ever-escalating
immoral or illegal acts.

In reality, of course, the people behind suburban grow ops are
probably nowhere near as nice. Real-life cul-de-sac cultivators must
be particularly callous, cold-blooded characters, given the way their
unsuspecting neighbours wind up feeling violated once the nature of
their enterprise is discovered.

Again, if you go back a decade or two, marijuana cultivation didn't
seem quite so deviant. It wasn't so long ago when the stereotype of
the marijuana grower was an aging hippie with a couple of plants or
some frat boys out to make a few bucks.

To some degree, there used to be some truth behind the stereotype.
Back in 1995, during a trip to the neo-hippie enclave of Nelson, B.C.,
I was startled to learn practically every second or third person in
the Kootenay Mountains had some direct or indirect involvement in the
marijuana trade.

Nobody I encountered claimed to have any direct involvement with
cultivation. But there was talk of getting paid by the hour to keep an
eye on mountainside plantations, clear patches of underbrush for
future growth and (perhaps apocryphally) grow tomatoes in an attempt
to ward off infrared detection by helicopter-borne police.

But that was 13 years ago in an insular B.C. valley. Today in
Manitoba, police believe the vast majority of grow ops are either
directly financed by organized crime or wind up making money for
criminal gangs at the distribution stage.

There may still be the odd hippie around with a few plants on his
windowsill, but the vast majority of marijuana growers are probably
connected to thugs, if they're not thugs themselves.

And that raises an old question that Canadians tend to mull over every
decade or so: Why doesn't the government deprive organized crime of
this very lucrative source of income?

Right now, police spend a huge amount of time and money chasing after
marijuana cultivators and distributors, while consumers are by and
large left alone. Government control of marijuana production could
allow police services to redeploy their resources elsewhere -- and
take a cash cow away from some very nasty people.

Of course, the current Conservative government is never going to
regulate marijuana production, let alone decriminalize its use. But
somebody's making money off the stuff, which is grown indoors with the
help of cheap hydro power.

If federal policy were as helpful to wheat and canola farmers as it
appears to be to criminal gangs, there might not be a national
agricultural crisis. After all, farmers tend to be a lot nicer than

Or so I've seen on TV.
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