On the street it's called Northern Lights, Ontario Hydro, and
B.C. bud. It's one of Canada's biggest agricultural exports - a
potent form of marijuana cultivated in sprawling "grow houses,"
worth an estimated US$4 billion to $7 billion annually. Much of it
is smuggled into the US.
Once hidden in farming communities and well-heeled suburbs, grow
operations - indoor nurseries with high-tech lighting and
temperature controls - have been thrust into the national spotlight.
Thursday Canada buried four young Royal Canadian Mounted Police
officers who were killed during a bust in rural Alberta March 3.
The Alberta grow house was just one of thousands across Canada.
Here in Ontario, police say indoor pot operations have risen 250
percent in the past four years. And Vancouver is home to some 7,000
"grow ops" at any time, police say.
The tragedy - the deadliest incident for Canada's national police
force in 120 years - has ignited debate as Canadians begin to
question whether liberal attitudes toward marijuana and lenient laws
enacted over the past two decades have contributed to the drug boom.
"It's really got people talking about the problem," says Marc
Pinault, staff sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service's drug unit.
"It's pretty clear that we produce a pile of pot, and it's really
good stuff. I don't know that that's something we should be really
Drugs moving east
British Columbia has long been the hub of sophisticated, high-
tech nurseries capable of producing pot with nearly 30 times the
kick of what was found on the street a decade ago, according to the
Drug Enforcement Agency. Sergeant Pinault says the increasing
numbers of massive growing operations - once largely the preserve of
Asian gangs and bikers on the West Coast - indicate the problem is
moving East into provinces like Ontario and Quebec.
Tom Stamatakis, a Vancouver police officer and a member of the
Canadian Professional Police Association, says criminals across the
country are modeling their operations after those found in and
For example, he says, grow houses are increasingly found in
upscale areas of the city as criminals ply their trade behind picket
fences and a facade of respectability. Inside, they're a hotbed of
danger - rigged with booby traps to ward off intruders and noxious
chemical compounds that pose serious health threats.
But those aren't the only perils. DEA special agent Rodney Benson
of Seattle says recent busts have also netted a pile of automatic
weapons and explosive devices.
"We're definitely seeing more violence," explains Mr. Benson, who
recently oversaw a year long, cross- border sting called Operation
Hockey Bag, in which investigators charged 22 people and seized more
than 400 lbs. of marijuana, along with $3.4 million and a dozen
firearms. "It's not just weapons - it's what we're seeing from the
organization. They rule and intimidate from within."
RCMP investigators are still sifting through the evidence, trying
to find out what led to the killing of the four officers last week. …