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ON: Grass Niagara's New Cash Crop

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ON: Grass Niagara's New Cash Crop


NIAGARA'S ISOLATED rural back roads, its booming greenhouse industry and its easy access to New York State make grow-ops easy to hide and highly lucrative, say local politicians. And the province's public safety minister says the boom in grow-ops is fuelling a trade in guns and hard drugs.

"These grow-ops are being used as currency by the underworld," said Monte Kwinter in a telephone interview yesterday. "These grow-ops that are being produced in hydroponic situations are enhanced by chemicals, they become very, very toxic and they ship ( cannabis ) to the U.S. in exchange for guns and for harder drugs and for currencies so that they can fund underworld activities," he said.

On Par With The Biggest

He puts the size of the Wainfleet operation on a par with some of the biggest busts in the province.

"This was a huge operation," Kwinter said. "We don't know the extent, although the fire people said there were thousands of marijuana plants and put it on a scale right up there with the Molson facility in Barrie," he said. In January last year, cops raided a giant grow-op in the old brewery.

It was only luck and the fact that the Wainfleet grow-op was in a field away from other buildings that averted injuries, Kwinter said.

He met recently with justice ministers from across the country and says grow-ops were on all their minds.

"It's a problem that is proliferating basically because if you take a look at the economics, it's just too tempting for people not to get involved in it.

"The risks involved are relatively minimal because the penalties involved are relatively minimal," Kwinter said.

In urban settings, the social problems as well as physical dangers, can be devastating.

"I have seen instances where apartment buildings in the west end of Toronto have had holes drilled right through concrete floors and they have taken two apartments on one level and two apartments on the other and connected them by drilling holes and running ducting down and you have serious degradation of the building," Kwinter said.

The Tory MPP who represents the Wainfleet area says lax penalties and federal policies that treat marijuana possession lightly are fuelling the grow-op business.

"It's almost treated as a joke," says Erie Lincoln MPP Tim Hudak. "On the supply side, penalties are relatively light. There doesn't seem to be a great deal of punishment coming from the courts.

"Secondly on the demand side, the federal Liberal government is treating marijuana decriminalization, possession, as something to jest about," he said, pointing to former PM Jean Chretien's joke about how he was considering taking up pot smoking when it was decriminalized.

"There need to be much tougher penalties for the supply side for those who operate the grow-ops and for the crime network that is behind them," Hudak said. "The rural part of Niagara may be a good place for grow-ops because they can hide in greenhouses on back concessions and get their products to markets in New York state and the GTA in under an hour."

New Democrat Peter Kormos says the pot trade is partially fuelled by aging baby boomers who have been toking for years.

"There are many people of our generation .... who have gone back to the land and who grow the stuff," Kormos said yesterday. He rejects the claim that it's being trucked across the border.

"I reject the allegation that somehow huge amounts of it are crossing the border because huge amounts of marijuana are precisely that -- they are huge bails of marijuana. That's why smuggling hard drugs like heroin and cocaine is more lucrative because it can be secreted more readily," he said.

Chief Called At 4 A.M.

Wainfleet Mayor Gord Harry said he was awoken at 4 a.m. by the fire chief. "It really shocked us and surprised us," Harry said.

All of which gives new meaning to the province's slogan, "Good things grow in Ontario."

World renowned for its waterfalls and its wines, Niagara may now add wacky tabaccy to its long list of lucrative cash crops.

Put that on a postcard -- and smoke it.

Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Contact: editor@tor.sunpub.com
Website: http://www.canoe.com/NewsStand/TorontoSun/home.html
 

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