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KELOWNA -- Even if Kelowna RCMP could bust a grow-op a day, they would never catch up with the amount of marijuana being cultivated here
Cpl. Carey Chernoff, head of the drug unit in Kelowna, said there are several hundred grow-ops in the Central Okanagan, perhaps up to 1,000 Valley-wide
"The drug unit at Kelowna city could be three times the size and we could do a grow every day -- and still have plenty left over," said Chernoff
"We'd never catch up with all of them. It's that prolific." Kelowna RCMP average about two grow busts a week
Chernoff said a day doesn't go by when police don't get at least a few new tips. He said grow-ops, especially in B.C., have become an attractive business because of light penalties from the courts
"There's big money in it and low risk," said Chernoff. "Penalties through the justice system don't provide much deterrent. If you look at the money you can make out of a grow, then, like any business, you weigh the risks against the upside."
Growers might receive a short jail term, but most likely a fine, said Chernoff.
"The way sentencing has gone in B.C., in particular, they ( growers ) are saying, `Why not grow marijuana?'
"There are so many of them now that if someone is sitting on a grow, he probably thinks, `They won't get mine.'
"We're doing what we can. We haven't backed off. We will still do our part, but it does get frustrating. You feel like you've got your finger in the dike a lot of the time."
Chernoff has been in charge of the unit for 18 months. He worked drugs in Alberta for three years.
He said organized crime is heavily involved in grows, but at a long arm's length.
"The Hells Angels certainly do have a hand in the marijuana trade," said Chernoff. "We know that's a fact. I would say their role is substantial.
"But the structure is such that you're not going to find any Hells Angels hanging out in a grow-op. They are going to insulate themselves. There are several layers of people between the crop-sitter and the person who is eventually getting the money."
He said the HA and others run the business like a franchise, signing up low-level criminals to house-sit the plants.
"We've been told by crop-sitters: `They give me a house and they bring me my groceries. All I do is take care of the plants,'" said Chernoff, adding that the sitters also get paid when the crop is harvested.
At the next level up, operations get more complicated.
Middle men organize the structure and collect the money. Pot brokers collect all the marijuana and arrange for it to be shipped out.
"That's all the brokers do," said Chernoff. "If you're growing marijuana, you must have somewhere for it to go. You have to be tied in to organized crime, which has the networks set up.
"If you have a 1,000-plant marijuana grow, you're not going to sell it out your front door at the ounce level."
Chernoff said far more marijuana is grown in the Okanagan than meets local demand. He said it's shipped across Canada, into the United States and even overseas.
Chernoff was reluctant to provide details on techniques used in a bust, but said, as with any investigation, the first step is to get a search warrant.
"This can start with a tip from a concerned citizen or through Crime Stoppers," he said. "It takes a lot of power to generate a grow, so we might get our hands on hydro records.
"We can do infrared readings for heat signatures that are conducive to a grow."
Police may then make neighbourhood enquiries or even sniff for the smell of marijuana, although they can't go on the property to do that.
Growers often bypass the electric meter, but Chernoff said electric companies have means to identify excessive consumption before it gets to the meter. But, he said the electric companies don't always fully co-operate.
"We have some co-operation from the hydro companies. However, they have their own policies in place," said Chernoff. "They have their legal departments who advise them that they can't help the police in the way we would like in using these tools.
"There always seems to be something tying our hands, and we have to find a way around it. It seems to get tougher every year. There's new loopholes all the time -- more hoops to jump through."
He said the job is becoming more dangerous because grow-sitters are arming themselves with handguns and rifles as never before.
"There's a lot of money at stake, and these crop-sitters are worried about fending off people who try to take their crops," said Chernoff.
"There are people who rip off the growers -- it's their line of business ( and ) all they do."
He said automatic weapons generally have not shown up in the Okanagan.
"Your average crop-sitters may not have the means to get their hands on a gun like that, but if it's a well-structured organization, they may have access to automatic weapons." said Chernoff.
He said that in Ontario, authorities have found that most of the guns are coming into Canada from the U.S., where weapons laws are more lax.
Asked whether he had any personal opinions on legalization of marijuana Chernoff said:
"I don't know if there is a policeman who doesn't give that some thought. I find that if I try to wrap my head around the bigger social and political problems surrounding drugs, it's easy to lose focus on what my job is.
"I keep it in simple terms: it's illegal, and it's my job to enforce the law."
"He said that in Ontario, authorities have found that most of the guns are coming into Canada from the U.S., where weapons laws are more lax." I thought it was harder to get a gun here in the states, never tried though.
-------------------- Let me out of this place
I'm outta place
I'm in outer space
I've just vanished without a trace
I'm going to a pretty place now where the flowers grow
I'll be back in an hour or so
[quote]Abuse said: the dea can go fuck themselves! with the internet, the impossible is possible![/quote]