Homegrown Industry Thrives

July 7, 2008

Another day, another grow-op busted.  And tomorrow there’ll be another.

As Ontario’s homegrown marijuana industry hums and thrives, shipping its potent product across the U.S.  border by the tonne, some things don’t much change for the Toronto police drug squad.

On the average working day, citywide, one grow-op is dismantled.  And that likely represents just a fraction of the cultivation afoot, says the squad’s Detective Sergeant Dave Malcolm, who oversees street drug enforcement.

“The numbers haven’t decreased one bit in the past three years,” he said yesterday.  “We’re pretty much up to par.”

Another constant, he says, is the preferred destination of all that weed, much of which is produced hydroponically, calling for sophisticated systems to distribute light, heat, fertilizer and water.

“The majority of the product that is grown in Ontario, we believe, goes south,” Det.  Sgt.  Malcolm said.

Police in British Columbia and Quebec have long seen the same traffic pattern, grounded in the same twofold logic: the money and the risk.

Half a kilo of high-grade marijuana retails for about $2,000 in Ontario these days.  In New York City, that same pressed brick fetches about $6,000.

As for penalties, the difference is also profound.  When seven Canadians pleaded guilty four years ago to operating the biggest grow-op in this country’s history, inside the former Molson brewery in Barrie, they received sentences ranging from house arrest to five years and all have since been released.

In many parts of the United States they could have received life terms, even though the gardeners were minor players.

By any yardstick, Canadian marijuana is a big industry.

Two years ago the RCMP estimated it produced somewhere between 1,400 and 3,500 tonnes annually, with B.C., Ontario and Quebec accounting for about 90 per cent of the load.

Another perennial is the role of organized crime.

In B.C., marijuana grow-ops are the largest single revenue source for gangsters, Prof.  Darryl Plecas of the University College of the Fraser Valley said recently.

Det.  Sgt.  Malcolm says that’s also true in Ontario, where crime syndicates – particularly Asian ones – commonly prey upon recently arrived immigrants and refugees.

Outlaw bikers, too, have always been linked to the drug trade, and not just to clandestinely produced marijuana.  Ecstasy and methamphetamine, being churned out by the barrel-load, remains overwhelmingly an organized-crime phenomenon.

At the same time, a few things have changed in the marijuana trade, Det.  Sgt.  Malcolm says.

“Criminals are adjusting themselves.  When we started several years ago, we were finding thousands of plants growing in a home.  Now there are more houses and fewer plants – maybe a few hundred or less.”

Smaller crops – for example, a flourishing grow-op typically produces three crops a year, devouring electricity by the kilowatt-hour – are easier to conceal.

And that’s especially true if it’s housed in an apartment that does not have its own hydro meter, rather than in a house.

Close to half the grow-ops being dismantled in Toronto are now located in apartments.

And with healthy marijuana plants worth at least $1,000 apiece, Det.  Sgt Malcolm said, “The profits are huge.”

Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)

Website: http://www.globeandmail.ca/

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