Take our Poll | Contact Us | Join our mailing list | Advanced Search |

"Grow op" boom worries Canadian police

David Ljunggren, Tiscali.co.uk, 4th June 2006

Canadian police are increasingly worried by the destabilising effect of a multibillion-dollar illegal marijuana industry, which they call a "plague on our society".

Four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were shot dead on Thursday at a farm in northwestern Alberta that was the site of a suspected marijuana growing operation, or "grow op".

Estimates for the value of the trade vary widely and some experts say it is worth C$10 billion a year. The main centre is the Pacific province of British Columbia, where criminals export potent "B.C. Bud" to the United States.

"The issue of grow ops is not a Ma-and-Pa industry, as we’ve been saying for a number of years. These are major serious threats to our society ... and major organized crime in many cases is involved," said Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, Canada’s top Mountie.

"This is really a plague on our society now. This isn’t just happening in small communities, it’s happening throughout the country," he said on Thursday.

Police say penalties for those involved are too lenient and complain they do not have enough officers to tackle the often ingenious criminals involved in the trade.

In January 2004, police discovered 30,000 pot plants worth more than C$30 million growing in a former brewery in the city of Barrie, Ontario near Toronto.

In 2001, Mounties unearthed a grow op in six rail cars buried in a remote Manitoba field, complete with their own power and water system to grow about 1,400 plants at a time.

VIOLENCE CALLED ATYPICAL
A criminologist who studied grow ops cautioned that the violence in Alberta was "very atypical," because most professional growers know the legal consequences of confronting police are much worse than if they just surrender the crop.

"I don’t even think it is accurate to focus on this as a grow op. One has to look at the (gunman), who we know now was reviled in the community... and described by his own father as evil," said Neil Boyd of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

A senior police official said on Friday that current laws against grow ops were too weak, and complained that judges often let criminals off with fines.

"We need the judges to understand that when they give those little fines to somebody who is involved in grow ops it sends a message that ’Go ahead, go with a grow op, you’re going to make big bucks’," Canadian Professional Police Association president Tony Cannavino told CTV television.

Police say another problem they face with grow ops is they are booby-trapped, often to protect them from rival criminals.

"Some places there are wires attached to 12-gauge (shot) guns and if you step on the wire you’re going to get killed. In other places you’ll see bear traps, electrical devices, chemical devices," said Cannavino.

Last November the federal government proposed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, an idea that police chiefs oppose. The new law would also stiffen penalties for grow ops.

Pot activists said the Alberta killings in fact showed the need to legalize the drug.

"If it were legal and the government regulated its sale and distribution all of these problems would disappear, including the potential for violence and death," said Marc Emery, a leading pro-pot advocate.

Police say penalties for those involved are too lenient and complain they do not have enough officers to tackle the often ingenious criminals involved in the trade.

In January 2004, police discovered 30,000 pot plants worth more than C$30 million growing in a former brewery in the city of Barrie, Ontario near Toronto.

In 2001, Mounties unearthed a grow op in six rail cars buried in a remote Manitoba field, complete with their own power and water system to grow about 1,400 plants at a time.

Email this story to someone else | Printer Friendly Version