Pot Growers Thrive in British Columbia 

Pot Growers Thrive in British Columbia 
Posted by FoM on May 21, 2000 at 06:55:07 PT
By Steven Pearlstein
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
The illegal trade is beginning to intrude on the serenity of upscale neighborhoods. Jean Simpson was out weeding her perennial beds on a brilliant spring afternoon when two vans pulled up in front of her house, disgorging a squad of police officers in flak jackets who began marching double time down Kenwood Street.
After knocking on the front door four houses away, they drew their revolvers, smashed in the front door of the million-dollar mansion, and emerged minutes later with their quarry: 78 potted plants. "I suppose this is not exactly what you'd expect in what's supposed to be the richest and safest community in Canada," said Simpson, a real estate agent. But these days, it's hardly an unusual occurrence. With so many houses put up for rent by absentee owners, Simpson's exclusive neighborhood has become a favored location for British Columbia's fastest-growing industry: the illegal cultivation of some of the world's most sought-after marijuana. After years of selective breeding and cutting-edge cultivation techniques, experts say, "B.C. Bud" has three to five times the potency, or THC levels, of marijuana grown outdoors in Mexico or the Caribbean. And from its benign roots as a backyard avocation of aging hippies, the marijuana trade here has grown into a sophisticated, multibillion-dollar industry that rivals forestry and tourism in its economic impact and is largely controlled by Vietnamese crime gangs and the Hell's Angels. With most of the marijuana destined for U.S. markets, American officials have been pressing Canada to take more aggressive steps to halt the flow of B.C. Bud. Raids on indoor growing houses are now daily occurrences, while every night, special teams of U.S. and Canadian police, using the latest military technology, prowl British Columbia's hundreds of miles of unfenced border in search of "mules" carrying hockey equipment bags stuffed with marijuana. But with Canadian courts reluctant to give serious jail time to low-level growers and couriers, even police concede their stepped-up enforcement has been ineffective in getting the testimony necessary to win convictions against kingpins. "At the end of the day, the court system here doesn't offer much of a deterrence," said Constable John Ibbotson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A recent study by the Vancouver Sun newspaper found that although growing and transporting commercial quantities of marijuana carries penalties of up to seven years in prison, only one in five people convicted of the crimes received any jail time - and of those who did, nearly all could have been out within 45 days. Most of the rest received fines averaging about $2,000, the annual revenue from one plant. It's no surprise that British Columbia has become a center for the marijuana trade. Much like California, the region became a haven for baby boomers seeking an alternative lifestyle in the 1970s, and their liberal and libertarian values still color life on Canada's "Left Coast."Patrons light up joints in bars and coffee shops and downtown streets, and certain cafes boast dishes laced with "Mary Jane." With police already overwhelmed by the growing traffic in cocaine and heroin, recreational marijuana use simply was not a law enforcement priority. Not coincidentally, a solid majority of British Columbian voters favored some form of legalization. By the early 1990s, marijuana had become a cottage industry, particularly in rural areas where declines in the region's traditional fishing, mining and logging industries had left legions underemployed. Using 1,000-watt, metal halide bulbs and special indoor growing techniques to produce ever more potent plants, local growers found a new cash crop for export.Local merchants began to do a brisk business in hydroponic equipment (29 stores are listed in the Vancouver Yellow Pages) while specialized dial-a-harvest teams sprang up to cut, dry and package the crop for sale. By the end of the decade, a pound of B.C. Bud was fetching $3,000 across the border in Washington state and $6,000 on the streets of New York and Los Angeles.According to Canadian police, it was the local chapter of the Hell's Angels - reputed to be the richest in North America - that began to bring disciplined organization to the marijuana trade, integrating a network of independent growers with an effective U.S. distribution network. Beginning in 1995, however, the bikers began to be edged out by Vietnamese gangs that not only recruited low-cost immigrant workers to the trade but were more willing to use beatings and murder to shut out competitors. "The Vietnamese," said one U.S. law enforcement official, "make the Hell's Angels look like angels." Last month, Vietnamese immigrant John Ly, 24, was beaten to death in his rented house in Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, where he lived with his wife and children. Police found 140 marijuana plants in the basement. It was the fourth such gangland-style murder in eight weeks. Investigators say the Vietnamese growers follow a disciplined routine. Each gang has specialists - usually nice, well-spoken young couples - who lease houses from property managers.They never move in, but instead send a professional crew to hook up the necessary heating and ventilation systems. The crew also arranges an electrical bypass so the local power company is unable to detect any sudden increase in power use required by the high-watt bulbs. Then, a recent immigrant with little or no knowledge of the rest of the operation is offered the opportunity to live with his family in the house in return for watering the plants and keeping out of sight. A crew is sent in every few months to harvest the marijuana and prepare it for export.Just about every sort of conveyance - from kayaks and sailboats to horses, snowmobiles, mountain bikes and airplanes - has been used to get the marijuana into the United States. At various points, the border between the two countries amounts to a six-foot-wide ditch with a country highway running parallel on either side, close enough for smugglers to toss hockey bags from one moving pickup to another. "I'd be kidding you if I told you we stop more than 5 percent of the stuff that moves across this border," Canadian investigator Don Nicholson said. "We do enough just to keep them honest." In recent months, the tide of public opinion has begun to shift against the marijuana trade as its impact has begun to be felt in Vancouver's normally quiet suburbs. Local fire departments have reported dozens of house fires caused by faulty wiring associated with the high-watt lamps. Police have blamed gang members for a rash of break-ins at houses mistakenly identified as rival growing operations. Last year, British Columbia moved to bring some coordination to its drug enforcement effort, which is divided among dozens of local jurisdictions, by launching a new B.C. Organized Crime Agency with sweeping new powers and some additional manpower. In March, the agency launched a campaign against a Vietnamese gang that was operating at 24 sites. It arrested 31 people, seized $2 million worth of plants, and put 23 children into state custody. But even top investigators said that without the threat of long sentences or deportation, those arrested are unlikely to provide evidence against their higher-ups."We could shut down grow houses forever and still never make a dent," the agency's Brad Parker said. By Steven PearlsteinWashington PostWest Vancouver, B.C.Published: May 21, 2000 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. Related Article:High Times for Cottage Industry
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by Danny on July 18, 2001 at 19:27:17 PT:
legalize for profits and jobs
Marijuana needs to be legalized in BC. Jobs like mills can be opened in BC. Lumber one of BC biggest industries are slowing down. Jobs are needed. Marijuana has the demand.
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: