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Canada - City Bylaw Pounding Pot Growers

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B.C. - A new Chilliwack bylaw is muscling marijuana grow-ops out of residential neighbourhoods and hitting operators in the pocketbook - even before court convictions.

Fewer but larger grow-ops appear to be moving to large commercial lots and to high-end homes as a result of the bylaw, but it's still a good first step toward making neighbourhoods safe, city and RCMP officials said at a news conference yesterday.

Mayor Clint Hames said if a few large grow-ops replace the "thousands" of small grow-ops found in residential neighbourhoods, then the city's anti-marijuana strategy is heading in the right direction.

"There's still too many," he added, "and we're still going to go after them all."

Four hundred grow-ops were reported to police in Chilliwack last year, suggesting the real number could be more than 1,200.

Thirty-three grow-ops have been ticketed under the city bylaw since it was enacted last September, 30 of those on residential properties, two commercial and one agricultural.

Nine of the residential properties were "relatively" new homes.

"We're finding these grow-ops not just in older houses with very little value," said city technical services manager Lisa Thompson, but also in higher-end residences.

"We're seeing a trend toward upper-scale neighbourhoods," agreed RCMP Cpl. Roxanne Dowden, with market values between $300,000 to $500,000 and toward commercial operations like vacant chicken barns and warehouses. She said only about a third of the homes are rental units.

Supt. Dale McGowan, officer in charge of the RCMP's Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment, said the "owners" of these upscale homes may only keep them for six months before changing location, suggesting an organized crime network.

"These grows are clearly a threat to public safety," he added, citing cases of violent home invasions, weapons found during grow-op busts and fire hazards posed by the grow itself. He said one in 10 grow-ops catches fire, according to a 2002 study.

Apart from the criminal consequences, the Chilliwack bylaw treats grow-ops as an unsafe industrial operation in a residential area for which owners can be fined on several fronts, from the cost of health inspections to clean-up before a home can be reoccupied.

Ms. Thompson said the city has levied "just under" $50,000 in fines under the bylaw and charged more than $60,000 in fees. The average home grow-op owner is looking at shelling out $7,000 in fees, plus restoration costs that can range from $3,000 to $10,000.

Supt. McGowan said the integrated police/municipal approach in Chilliwack is an "innovative" strategy that is giving the city a "one-two punch" against organized crime.

Mayor Hames agreed, saying the combination of community, local government and police enforcement is "making Chilliwack a safer place."

"This is a bylaw we've shown can work," he said.



Source: Chilliwack Progress (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 The Chilliwack Progress
Contact: editor@theprogress.com
Website: http://www.theprogress.com/
 
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