The dull thump of a police battering ram announced the start of a crackdown
on illegal marijuana grow ops in Surrey on Thursday, as
RCMP unveiled a new 20-officer team dedicated to raiding the illicit
operations.

Three grow ops were raided in as many hours, with the possibility of a
fourth after The Leader's press deadline.

"If you're growing marijuana in Surrey, we're coming after you," Const. Tim
Shields told a news conference outside the second raid
of the day at an upscale Fraser Heights home in the 11000 block of 159 St.

It took officers roughly 20 hits with the heavy metal ram to break down the
reinforced door to the house, which had barred windows,
and an elaborate alarm system coupled with surveillance video cameras to
protect more than 200 plants.

The couple who live in the house arrived in a car as the raid was in
progress and fled, pursued by officers.

The two, an Asian man and woman in their 40s, were arrested a few blocks
away with $10,000 cash in their car.

A resident of the neighbourhood, who asked not to be named, said she knew
for some time that the house was being used to grow pot.

"At one point, the electrical box outside was smoking," said the resident,
who called the news of a beefed-up police grow op team
"awesome."

Shields said the team will work with municipal, provincial and private
agencies, including local realtors, to bust more grow ops.

Surrey Coun. Gary Tymoschuk also attended the news conference, saying the
hiring of 20 new general duty officers has allowed the
Surrey detachment to reassign investigators to the new team.

"It's not something we are going to tolerate," Tymoschuk said of the
booming illicit industry.

Local police have been struggling to keep up with the booming marijuana trade.

A study by the Surrey RCMP released last March shows as many as 4,500
indoor marijuana grow operations are raking in at least $2
billion a year in Surrey, many of them operating in new homes.

The study indicates 90 per cent of them are operated by Vietnamese
organized crime gangs which favour the use of new houses, some
worth as much as $700,000, to conceal their operations.

Police believe some unscrupulous realtors and home builders are conspiring
with pot growers to construct new houses specifically
designed to accommodate grow ops with heavy-duty wiring and ventilation.

While the study did not provide a total value of the Surrey pot trade, a
conservative estimate of the cash value of the crops
($500,000 to $1 million annually per house, depending on the number of
plants) suggests Surrey growers could be making as much as
$2.6 billion a year.

In some new neighbourhoods, more than half the homes are believed to be
concealed growing operations.

This spring, a Leader story detailed the troubles of homeowners in the
15800-block of 111 Ave. in Guildford, where six of 12 homes
on the street have been linked to the illegal marijuana growing trade.

For the people who live on the street, sharing their neighbourhood with
growers has meant sporadic power failures, occasional police
raids, and constant anxiety about the people who come and go from the
silent houses with the extra-large vents and shuttered
windows.

Pot growing has become big business with Asian gangs and outlaw motorcycle
clubs squeezing out small independent marijuana growers,
according to former Surrey grower Randy Caine, who has waged a lengthy
court battle to repeal Canada's pot laws.

In an interview earlier this year, Caine complained the encroachment of
organized crime has driven out the "mom-and-pop" growers.

Well-known B.C. marijuana activist Marc Emery believes the best way to
eliminate indoor grow ops is to legalize marijuana.

"Once it's legal, you'll never see a grow op in a house again," Emery told
The Leader in a recent interview.

Dana Larsen, the president of the B.C. Marijuana Party, suggested the City
of Surrey should license indoor growing to address safety
concerns instead of trying to stamp them out.

"The city licenses escort services," Larsen said Thursday.

"They can license people to grow plants indoors to make sure they use safe
wiring. They don't have to know it's marijuana."



Source: Surrey Leader (CN BC)
Pubdate: November 14, 2003
Contact newsroom@surreyleader.com
Website: http://www.surreyleader.com/
Copyright: 2003 Surrey Leader
Author: Dan Ferguson