HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot And Profit
Pubdate: Mon, 14 Jul 2008
Source: Peterborough Examiner, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Sarah Deeth
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


The production and sale of marijuana in the area is a large and
growing international enterprise, highly sophisticated and generating
huge profits for Asian organized crime, a police expert says.

Det. Const. Ernie Garbutt, one of eight officers in the OPP's Central
East Drug Unit, says the area marijuana industry generates up to $50
million per year.

Garbutt's unit covers a region that encompasses Peterborough,
Northumberland and Haliburton counties and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Officers seize about 50,000 plants per year, Garbutt said, each with a
value of about $1,000.

"We're talking tonnes and tonnes of money," he said.

When he started with the unit in 2003, he said, a grow op would
typically be about 100 plants.

Today that number is closer to 20,000, he said.

Secluded areas, good soil and relatively short distance from Toronto
make this a prime destination for marijuana growers, he said.

"Asian organized crime, they have a monopoly on grow ops," Garbutt

Marijuana is a huge export for Ontario, he said, because of high
demand in the United States, where pot is less available than in Canada.

Garbutt said he and fellow officers have found bags of marijuana
labelled "Minnesota" and "Boston."

"A lot of bags are getting ready for the border," Garbutt said. "So
it's shipped to the States. And what do the States do with it? They
give us all the cocaine we want." Marijuana has become so lucrative
that growers are increasingly protecting their plots with booby traps,
dogs and armed guards.

It's not unusual, he said, for organized crime to recruit new
immigrants to watch over an operation during growing season.

One man, he said, was paid $5,000 to live in a truck for a couple of
months with a dog and a pellet gun.

"It may not seem like a lot of money," Garbutt said. "But they send
that money home, and in another country that's a lot of money."

Garbutt has seen fishhooks strung from trees at eye level and bundles
of wood hanging from trees ready to drop with the snap of a trip wire.

The traps, he said, aren't for police. They're there to alert the
guards about prowlers.

A growing concern to police, he said, is the increasing number of "pot
pirates" who come to the area in the fall, when growers begin
harvesting plants.

The pirates are organized groups, sometimes armed, with the goal of
ripping off as many growers as possible.

"When it comes to picking time, they're going to rip you off," Garbutt

They come equipped with GPS systems, guns, bulletproof vests and, in
some cases, he said, they will dress like police officers.

"Now you've got people in the woods with guns, guarding marijuana grow
ops. And they're nervous," he said.

"And people say it's just marijuana," Garbutt said.

There aren't many houses on county roads, he explained, and numerous
ATV and hiking trails branch off into the forest, providing easy
access to isolated growing sites.

Grow ops can be found in the middle of cornfields, swamps, near rivers
and even in trees.

And, he said, that's not even touching what they find in grow

Those can be found on quiet streets or rural roads.

Spending $200,000 on a house is nothing for organized crime, he said,
when you can make $2 million per year from a well-run operation.

"It doesn't even matter if they lose the house," Garbutt

Indoor grow operations are designed to mimic natural

Lights mimic the sun, fans create wind and there are even bulbs for
spring, summer and fall lighting.

Each house, he said, is set up exactly the same way.

"You would never think to look at it twice because they're designed to
look lived in," he said.

Plants are cycled so mature plants blossom under one type of bulb
while clones get their start in potters under a different bulb.

"And it all runs on timers," Garbutt said.

Garbutt estimates a large grow house can draw anywhere from $3,000 to
$4,000 worth of hydro a month.

"They're pulling so much power out they're blowing transformers," he
said, adding that growers bypass hydro meters.

"They steal all the hydro and you and I pay for it," Garbutt

The wiring, running along the ground or ceiling, is a fire hazard, he

The problem is so persistent that Garbutt will give presentations to
firefighters on how to fight a grow operation fire.

Houses are filled with dirt, the plants bring insect infestation and
super-grow chemicals and insecticides are in the air, he said.

With all of that, he said, comes mould infestation.

"Some of the houses I've seen should be bulldozed," Garbutt said. "The
worst part is that when they're done, they don't care."

New legislation requires police to notify municipalities if a grow
house is found, he said, and usually the house is condemned.

This all adds up to public safety issues, he said.

"People shouldn't be scared, but they need to know what's going on,"
Garbutt said.

He said he has received calls from people who think pot is growing on
their property and are too scared to go check it out.

People should never be afraid to go on their own property, he said,
and police will always go and check it out.

"Just get us going in the right spot," Garbutt said.

Even if the police don't catch growers, he said, they'd seize the

There's so much money in marijuana, he said, that it's hard to deter

Sentencing can be as small as a fine, he said, and growers will say
the plants are for personal use.

"If you're growing 1,000 plants you're not growing for yourself," he

Even the prospect of a trial and jail time doesn't deter them, he

"They go to court because they want to know how you found them," he
said. "Because it's always a learning experience in court."

Police are not going to win the battle, Garbutt said.

But for every plant that winds up in the hands of the police it's one
more that doesn't hit the streets, he said.

"That's the biggest satisfaction at the end of the day," Garbutt

"We're not stopping them, and we're not going to stop them. But we're
slowly pushing them away."

- - - -

Thieves targetting grow ops can traumatize neighbourhood

Marijuana grow ops in the city vary from small operations to larger
ones linked to organized crime.

"If we even have one it's a problem," said city police Det. Const. Ian

Crack cocaine is a bigger problem, he said, but all drugs include the
potential for violence.

A pound of marijuana, he said, can sell for as much as

"It's a very lucrative business," he said.

With every search, he said, police are increasingly finding guns,
knives and baseball bats hidden in homes.

"Under couches, under cushions, it's almost guaranteed," he

Most grow operators, he said, are going to protect themselves and
their product any way they can.

Grow houses can be targeted by thieves, he said.

"We've certainly had our share of home invasions," he

Even if it's one drug dealer robbing another, he said, those robberies
terrify other people on that street.

"People who live there are traumatized," Maxwell said.
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