Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Adrian Humphreys and Stewart Bell, National Post
Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Marijuana grow operations, many of them in well-to-do suburban neighbourhoods, "have reached epidemic levels in Ontario, Quebec and particularly British Columbia," says a classified RCMP report on organized crime.
The detailed analysis of threats from myriad sophisticated criminal gangs across Canada pegs the illicit indoor and outdoor marijuana gardens as "an economic mainstay for all crime groups."
Moreover, the report says the profit from the operations is so great that violence over them -- including murders -- is "on the rise in most areas of the country."
Police in Canada have seized an average of 1.4 million marijuana plants in each of the past four years, representing a six-fold increase from 1993, the report says. Based on the size of the seizures and the average plant yield, the RCMP estimates the annual marijuana production in Canada to be 800 tonnes.
"The sheer size of those operations has reached unprecedented levels. Each year, several multi-thousand plant operations are discovered both indoors and outdoors," the report says.
The cultivation of marijuana, a drug on the verge of going before Parliament to decriminalize its possession, is undertaken by many criminal groups studied in the RCMP intelligence report obtained by the National Post.
"Outlaw motorcycle gangs used to enjoy a virtual monopoly over marijuana grow operations but they now have to contend with an increasing Asian organized-crime presence in some parts of the country," the report says.
It is now a particular favourite of Vietnamese gangs.
"Vietnamese-based organized crime groups ... are considered violent and are involved in different criminal activities, particularly marijuana grow operations and related money laundering."
The gangs often distance themselves from the operation by hiring new immigrants to tend the crops.
"Violence has always been an intrinsic part of the production, trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs and marijuana is no exception. There are broad indications that violence associated with marijuana grow operations is on the rise in most areas of the country," the report says.
"The marijuana grow phenomenon continues to grow and it should remain a major source of revenue for various types of organized crime. They have a disruptive effect on communities, since disputes over these operations can turn violent."
The report says police have linked home invasions, drug thefts, burglaries, assaults and murders to the operations.
Canada's homegrown marijuana is being smuggled to the United States and the proceeds from sales then repatriated to gangsters here. The marijuana is also being traded in the United States for cocaine, which is then imported and sold in Canada, the report says.
The prominence of issues relating to marijuana grow operations in the 40-page report, distributed internally in April to help guide and prioritize major investigations launched by the RCMP, suggests the seriousness with which the force views the problem.
Dan McTeague, a Liberal MP, said the report raises serious concerns that are ignored in the government's proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the legislation that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
"The issue of decriminalization has obscured the real problem here. We seem to have lost sight of the profound implications for public security that stems from marijuana grow operations," Mr. McTeague said.
The amendments, which also deal with grow operation offences, is "woefully inadequate" in tackling the epidemic because it does not require minimum prison terms for those caught running the operations, nor does it have escalating sentencing provisions for repeat offenders, he said.
"In the rush to meet the Prime Minister's agenda, we are avoiding a very serious social and security issue. Most of us see this as a bad Cheech and Chong movie, but it is giving rise to the penetration of organized crime that now threatens our valued institutions," he said.
Figures contained in a separate confidential report, prepared by the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario and obtained by the Post, says that in the Toronto area, in the years 2000 to 2002, 152 sentences were handed out for running a grow operation.
Only 42 of them included incarceration; the average sentence was 46 days in custody.
The CISO report says 85% of the marijuana cultivation and distribution in B.C. is controlled by outlaw bikers and Vietnamese gangs. The joint police intelligence agency suspects that situation is mirrored in Ontario, although more research is needed.
The RCMP's report says the immediate outlook for law enforcement is not good.
"High profitability, low risk and relatively lenient sentences continue to entice growers, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the police to make a truly lasting impact on the marijuana cultivation industry in Canada.
"Since marijuana is by far the most popular and widely available illicit drug, it is unlikely that the current trend will change in the near future," it concludes.
GROW-OPS FLOURISH IN WELL-TO-DO AREAS:
A marijuana grow-op was operated in this home in Coquitlam.
Licensed real estate agents of Vietnamese origin have helped Asian organized crime groups purchase or lease homes for use as illicit marijuana grow operations, says a confidential report by Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario.
The homes, often in well-to-do neighbourhoods, are used to grow massive quantities of high-grade marijuana, says the report by the joint police agency that co-ordinates funding to police services involved in major investigations.
The homes are not the squalid, inner-city crack houses usually associated with the drug trade but large, modern suburban homes with double garages.
The report, obtained by the National Post, says recent reports on operations raided by police are largely consistent, leading to a portrait of a "typical grow op."
The gangsters start by looking for specific homes:
- They are usually more than 2,000 square feet and priced between $200,000 and $500,000;
- The basement is unfinished to facilitate the rewiring needed to hook up the 1,000-watt lights and other equipment needed to grow the marijuana plants;
- A fireplace is needed to vent the powerful odour from the crop; and
- A large, attached garage is needed to conceal vehicles used to transport the harvested crops.
Once the home is bought, a renovation crew installs the heating and venting systems and an electrical bypass box to steal the massive amount of electricity needed. Spreading the hydro draw between unsuspecting neighbours masks the hydro spike when the grow op starts.
"Once the operation is set up, a 'crop sitter' -- often a recent immigrant -- with little or no knowledge of the rest of the operation is paid a nominal wage to water the plants and generally tend to the daily upkeep," says the report.
"To avoid eliciting suspicion by neighbours, the crop sitter will sometimes have his or her entire family live in the dwelling."
The operations typically generate at least 600 plants each cycle with a retail value of $600,000.
"As many as 10,000 children may have resided in grow-op dwellings over the 2000-2003 period," the CISO report says.
Ran with fact box "Grow-Ops Flourish in Well-To-Do Areas" which had been appended to the
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