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Pot bust biggest ever

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Terry MacIsaac has driven past the former Molson's brewery nearly
every day since it closed more than three years ago putting him out of work
after 26 years on the job.

But he never imagined that a huge crop of marijuana was being grown in the
abandoned beer vats.

He rarely glanced at the windowless, gray industrial building surrounded by
two chain-link fences, topped with barbed wire and never gave a second
thought to the comings and goings of delivery trucks.

"Like everyone else, I'm absolutely astounded," said McIsaac yesterday,
after hearing that police are calling the indoor marijuana grow operation,
discovered in the former brewery during a raid on Saturday, the biggest ever
in Ontario.

Police found a vast quantity of marijuana growing in the vats and "in every
space that could be kept warm," OPP Superintendent Bill Crate said.

MacIsaac, who worked in the brewing room, estimates that there were at least
60 of the giant vats each the size of a backyard swimming pool.

"I don't know if all the vats were left behind, but I can tell you that they
were huge," MacIsaac said.

The scale and sophistication of the operation with its production, packaging
and distribution centres and even a dormitory for workers inside the huge
building that stretches nearly one-kilometre is "beyond words," Crate said.

"It's so big that it took me more than an hour to walk through. It's twice
as big as we initially believed."

Because of the sophistication and size of the operation police are
investigating if there are any links to organized crime or biker gangs,
Crate said.

"I can tell you that a lot of money and organization has gone into setting
this up."

A lone officer in a cruiser guarded the gate yesterday as a constant stream
of police officers collecting evidence came and went.

Few passersby stopped to ask questions and even at Casey's Restaurant, the
nearest watering hole, few of the customers seemed to know what had

"But it's been a big topic of conversation among the staff. We've all been
passing by that place every day and we never suspected a thing,'' said
Casey's manager Brian Bell.

Police are investigating whether there are any links with another marijuana
grow operation discovered during a raid yesterday on a unit in a commercial
plaza in Oro Medonte on Highway 11 about 20 kilometres north of Barrie,
Crate said.

Eleven people have now been arrested in connection with that raid.

Details of charges won't be released until a news conference today, Crate

Pubdate: Monday, January 12, 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Contact: lettertoed@thestar.com
Website: thestar.com | Toronto Star | Canada's largest daily
Author: Roberta Avery