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Illegal marijuana operations on the rise, police say

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Ontario's homegrown marijuana industry is an expanding multibillion-dollar
export business, one that is making gangsters rich as it threatens
neighbourhoods, taxpayers and children, police said yesterday.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police released a report on the
province's marijuana business. In Green Tide: Indoor Marihuana Cultivation,
police offer their best estimates on a crime that they say is overwhelming
law enforcement.

According to the report:

The number of grow operations in the province has more than doubled in the
past two years to as many as 15,000, mostly in homes in suburbs or small and
medium-sized cities.

Since 2000, as many as 10,000 children have lived in homes that have been
converted into marijuana factories, which are often located within half a
kilometre of schools.

These so-called grow ops are estimated to have illicitly generated as much
as $12.7-billion during the past three years.

At the same time, taxpayers were stuck with paying $260-million, largely
because of electricity stolen from Ontario utilities by growers who want to
escape the scrutiny that accompanies large electricity bills.

Typically, rows upon rows of hydroponically grown plants are tended by new
immigrants and their families, who face increased risk of fires, violent
robberies and exposure to toxic chemicals.

The findings in the Ontario report are consistent with conclusions reached
in an RCMP report on national trends last year. While criminal syndicates in
B.C. pioneered indoor growing in Canada, the practice has proliferated
across the country in recent years.

One reason is that marijuana cultivation is highly lucrative and it is
relatively risk free here compared with the United States.

While Americans can face stiff. multiyear jail sentences if convicted of
growing marijuana, in Canada conditional sentences -- such as house arrest
or other non-jail punishments -- are the norm.

Authorities estimate a typical grow op can generate $600,000 a year.

Police, who say Ontario's 11 million citizens couldn't possibly smoke the
entire crop produced in the province, believe there is an increased demand
for Canada's supply from the United States.

At a press conference at Queen's Park yesterday, police called for tougher
laws and more public awareness.

Ontario Provincial Police deputy commissioner Vaughn Collins said that
marijuana cultivators should face a two-year minimum sentence. While the
RCMP report clearly places much blame on biker and Vietnamese gangs, Mr.
Collins said that organized criminals of all stripes are involved in the

Canada's proposed marijuana-decriminalization legislation would have
actually increased maximum penalties for cultivation, even as it would have
fined smokers for possession instead of charging them. But the bill died
when the parliamentary session ended in the fall. A recent court decision
has made possession a clear criminal offence in Ontario once again,
overtaking a previous decision that made it impossible for police to charge
people with marijuana use.

Pubdate: Thursday, December 18, 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Section: Page A16
Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca
Website: The Globe and Mail: Canadian, World, Politics and Business News & Analysis
Author: Colin Freeze