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The burning question: London's marijuana grow-ops

Jaymin Proulx | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 17th, 2011

In 1936, Louis Gasnier directed Reefer Madness, a grim portrayal of marijuana and its corruption of youth, ensnaring them into a destructive lifestyle.

It was later produced by Dwain Esper and went through several different name changes including Doped Youth, Love Madness and The Burning Question.

The burning question that London faces is what can be done locally for our reefer madness?

According to Det. Sgt. Chris McCoy, head of London Police Service's guns and drugs section, London police made 169 arrests and laid a total of 461 drug-related charges last year.

In addition, there have been nearly 50 search warrants for household marijuana grow operations — also known as grow-ops — since May 2009 in London. A grow-op is a building (often a house) that has been modified in order to grow large amounts of marijuana.

"Unfortunately, there is no particular area of the city where grow ops are more prevalent," said McCoy. "They are present in residential areas as well as commercial areas."

Sgt. Steve Arthur, Acting Officer in Charge of London Detachment of the RCMP, added that marijuana grow-ops lead to increased criminal activity in residential areas, fire hazards, health risks and environmental dangers, and decreased real estate values.

Drug enforcement is part of the RCMP mandate, and there are approximately 185 RCMP drug enforcement positions in Ontario.

A grow-op can be easily distinguished from other houses by the garbage bags containing soil and plant material often found on the property. Grow-ops also often have covered windows to obscure the activity in the house.

Most houses that grow marijuana are altered to supply light, water and ventilation to the growing plants. These changes require new owners to make significant repairs once they buy from the previous residents.

"Damage is caused by moisture from humidity which in turn causes mould," explained McCoy. "The mould permeates the structure, like the drywall and framing, and causes a significant health risk and needs to be professionally removed, rebuilt and inspected."

"Another costly repair issue is a hydro by-pass, which is when the hydro line is tapped into the meter so hydro use can't be detected. Also, any uninspected wiring alterations within the home are modified to run the lights, timers and other equipment. This too would have to be professionally removed, rewired and inspected."

Neighbours suspicious of growop activity should look for people arriving and leaving the house with garbage bags or bringing excessive amounts of soil and growing equipment into the house.

McCoy said the cost of busting a grow-op depends on the complexity of the investigation and the scale of the operation. "The larger the grow operation, the more expenses are required to dismantle it and process the seized exhibits for court or destruction. After that, there are the ongoing court processes."

Those who are convicted of participating in the cultivation and distribution of illicit marijuana can face anything from fines to forfeiture of assets to incarceration, said Arthur. "Marijuana possession, other than as specifically exempted from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, is against the law."
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