Recent Articles

Recent Comments

« | Main | »

Outdoor pot crops thrive on Vancouver Island

By admin | June 23, 2009

The Daily News

Outdoor pot crops thrive on Vancouver Island

Dustin Walker, Daily News
Published: Saturday, June 20, 2009

An RCMP helicopter pilot stands in a marijuana
crop field found on Vancouver Island.
Photograph by : Canwest News Service

Ideal weather, forestry layoffs and a crackdown on indoor marijuna-growing operations may motivate more people to plant crops deep within the woods of Vancouver Island this spring, say those connected to B.C.’s pot industry.

The dry, warm weather the Island has seen over the past few weeks is exactly what the sunshine-craving plants need to thrive, according to Victoria’s Ted Smith who teaches a free Hempology 101 course.

He’s heard outdoor crops are increasing and “the plants are doing pretty well already.”

Smith also expects some laid-off loggers to plant and sell small crops of pot to supplement their income because they’re more familiar with the Island’s backcountry terrain.

Meanwhile, authorities are continuing to focus their efforts on indoor grow-ops, which could force more pot-growers into the bushes. A study commissioned by the City of Surrey this month showed an 80.9% drop in residential grow-ops between 2004 and 2008, which was attributed to the use of an initiative that allows cities direct access to B.C. Hydro’s residential electrical consumption data.

Adding to the outdoor growing trend, the woods have become less busy over the past year, allowing would-be marijuana farmers to use access roads and set up their crops with less of chance of being spotted. Damage to the environment, however, could be significant.

Pot producers enjoyed a strong harvest last season after years of dismal yields due to rainy weather that caused the plants to develop mould, said Smith, who is also the founder of the Cannabis Buyer’s Club of Victoria, which provides pot to sick people.

“It was the first good year in several. And as I was saying last fall, there will probably be more people planting next year because things went pretty good in the end,” he said.

While pot advocates agree that gangs have a presence in Vancouver Island’s backcountry-marijuana production, they say most people who grow outdoors are doing it on a smaller scale to produce pot for themselves to smoke or to make a few bucks now and then selling it to friends and acquaintances. For many people, it’s a culture they want to maintain.

Smith said problems with growing pot, indoors or outdoors, only exist because it’s illegal, making the crop lucrative for gangs and forcing people to take illegal measures to grow it.

Vancouver Island has traditionally produced more outdoor marijuana than most parts of the province, yet the rainy weather is often a hindrance, said Smith. The Okanagan has the best conditions for a healthy crop.

Growing pot outdoors has a strong history on Vancouver Island, rooted in the arrival of draft dodgers in the 1960s and ’70s. In some ways, that culture continues today.

“What sticks out more here is the combination of the tolerance and the zeal for the herb, that isn’t as vocal or open as it may be in places like the Interior,” said Smith.

Just 16% of police cases involving marijuana production in B.C. came from outdoor grow-ops between 1997 and 2003, according to a 2005 report from the criminology department of the University College of the Fraser Valley. However, on Vancouver Island 33% of pot production cases in this period involved outdoor grow-ops, with only the Kootenay region — at 39% — showing a higher proportion.

For 2003, the last year information was collected for the study, Vancouver Island had the highest proportion of outdoor marijuana cases in the province at 45%.

Smith said “a couple buddies with a pickup truck” are the most likely people to plant hidden gardens of pot in the bushes. These people would tend to about 25-50 plants at a time, versus the larger-scale crops that appeal to organized crime.

Gangs don’t often see outdoor crops as viable, he said, preferring the far-more efficient indoor method.

Corp. Darren Lagan, with the Vancouver Island District RCMP, disagrees. He said the majority of outdoor growing operations have some link to gangs, even if it’s a couple of people that received funding from organization crime to grow pot.

He said that the amount of pot plants and the size of the crops RCMP find get larger every year, with the average crop size being 200-300 plants.

“So generally, when you start looking at it that way you see there has to be something bigger behind this than one or two guys,” said Lagan, who added that the increase of plants being seized could be due to police gaining more experience at finding the crops.

Outdoor grow-ops don’t present the same safety risks to the public as indoor operations, which yield higher-quality and larger amounts of marijuana in shorter periods of time, police say. But outdoor crops can cause environmental damage as growers divert streams for irrigation and leave trash and chemicals behind.

The soil can get contaminated easily said Lagan; chemicals used to boost the plants’ growth often seep into the ground.

Growers often look for areas that have been logged recently, with new growth about 5-10 years old that can provide some cover, he said. This means the producers will often wreck the tiny trees to make room for their plants.

“The safety risks to the public aren’t the same, there are new risks to the environment. But more significantly, it is a source for street-level trade and organized crime in general,” he said.

Smith said that environmental damage only occurs on the “odd occasion.” Most people try to plant around streams or marshes to provide irrigation so they don’t have to visit the site all the time.

“The last thing you want is a path (to your crop),” he said.

Nanaimo marijuana advocate Richard Payne, who has attempted to set up a club to supply medical marijuana to sick people, said the damage and crime created by growing operations are a result of the drug being illegal. For example, last month police found a 600-plant marijuana grow-op in a shed on Fifth Street, uncovered only after it caught fire.

Both Smith and Payne worry that with the passage of the federal Conservative Party’s Bill C-15, which creates tougher penalties for drug offences, organized gangs will be the only ones willing to risk tougher sentences to grow pot.

And then the “ma and pa” operations could be out for good, they say.

Darryl Plecas, a criminology professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, said that any increase in outdoor operations would likely be linked to authorities cracking down on indoor grow-ops using new techniques. He said police have typically focused on B.C.’s indoor marijuana crop in recent years.

But both indoor and outdoor grow-ops are increasing in B.C. due to rising organized crime, said Plecas. The number of “ma and pa” operations have likely decreased over the years as gangs moved in. “Rumour has it even those people are being pressured to get out of the business,” he said.

The RCMP seized about 23,000 marijuana plants on Vancouver Island last summer, up 2,000 from the year before. In 2006, 16,500 plants were seized. Whether the plant is grown indoors or outdoors, profits benefit organized gangs, according to the police.

Island RCMP have a single helicopter based out of Comox that flies almost every day during the summer, transporting officers or performing other tasks. While in the air, one officer acts as the ‘spotter’ looking for marijuana.



We want to hear from you. Send your comments on this story to Letters must include your first and last names, your hometown and a daytime phone number.

Topics: Articles | Comments Off

Comments are closed.