WHEN YOU THINK of marihuana grow operations (aka grow-ops), most people picture the basement of a house jampacked with hundreds of plants or secluded farm fields with hidden crops. Although this is most often the case, there are select groups who try their luck at growing their “green” in our
provincial forests or crown lands. These seemingly bold operations are taking place near your favourite hunting trail or along the way to your secret
fishing spot. There's always going to be those four or five plant growers out there that want to make it through winter on their own stash, but largescale
operations, with greater environmental impacts, are occurring more often then you think.

The Marihuana Grow Initiative Annual Report (2012) written by the RCMP states, “Marihuana grow operations are the staple of the organized crime economy. They generate a financial base for operating other illicit ventures that, in turn, breed more criminal activities.”

The purpose of my article is to educate resource users and officers about grow-ops and share my personal experience with a largescale operation on crown land.

Whether we like it or not, we, as game wardens or you, as resource users, have a good chance of coming across these plantations while we explore the forest. Here is my story…
    
 
     On September 26, 2009, while working out of Gypsumville district, I was conducting a moose patrol with my partner approximately 350 km north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. With moose season just starting, we were eager to see how guys were making out. I decided to pull into a trail off of the main highway which accessed a hydro line. I had noticed vehicle traffic on the trail in past years, but was never lucky enough to find anybody … until that day.

     As we crept along the rough trail, I noticed an Oldsmobile car parked about 30 yards north of the trail in the bush. My partner and I, both curious, approached the unlocked car which was registered to a Winnipeg resident. We both found this odd and, as we inspected the vehicle, I found remnants of marihuana on the front passenger seat and there was a backpack filled with garbage bags and a large straw hat. I have to admit the hairs stood up on my neck and an uneasy feeling came across me. When I looked at my partner, I could
see he felt the same way so I told him, “I think it's time to leave.” We both suspected some type of grow operation but didn't know where so we decided to go back to the highway instead of searching out the unknown by ourselves. We made contact with the local RCMP officers and parked on the other side of the highway out of sight.

     After approximately 35 minutes, the Oldsmobile pulled out onto the highway and headed south. We decided to follow it and contacted the RCMP with an update of the situation. Keeping our distance, we followed the suspect vehicle back to St. Martin Junction, Manitoba, and were met by two RCMP cruisers to provide assistance. We all converged on the vehicle as it pulled into a rest stop. Three suspects were removed from the vehicle and were questioned. Despite finding a small amount of freshly picked marihuana bud
on one of the suspects, they would not admit to anything.

     The suspects were held at the RCMP detachment for the small quantity of marihuana while the Manitoba Conservation Canine Unit was dispatched to assist with a search for a possible grow-op. Unfortunately, nothing was found that night and the suspects were released from custody.

    The next morning, the RCMP officers were busy on calls so we headed out without them to continue the search for the suspected grow-op. We returned to where the vehicle was parked and could not see anything obvious so we went back to the trail that led to the hydro lines. We continued east a short distance until my partner asked me to stop and back up. As I followed his direction, I spotted what he had noticed, a footpath through the moss, heading south.

     Excited and nervous, we kept our guard up and tracked the undefined trail through the bush for approximately 10 minutes. As we approached a ridge, I could see a plant that was definitely not in any of my college textbooks! When we scaled the small ridge, the grand size of what we found came into view. We would discover three plots along a small pond and a 1000 -plant harvest operation that would have produced marihuana sales of up to a million dollars in street value!

     Skinny bamboo sticks had supported the plants with zip ties and about 12% of the plants had been harvested. There was a fingernail brush and bar of soap by the water which was likely used to wash the smell of marihuana off their hands. We also located an irrigation system of pumps and garden hose used to water the crop. There were buckets of strong fertilizers lying on the ground, which presumably had spilled into the pond. A processing area had been set up where they removed the bud from the plants. There were various piles of litter throughout the operation and numerous trees had been cut to clear the plots. We also located a drying shack that was roughly framed and wrapped in plastic. Inside, we discovered trays that were lined with window screen. The trays had a
garbage bag's worth of harvested marihuana bud spread out to dry. There was a heater and a fan set up which was powered by a generator buried in the ground. We found hundreds of plastic planters, which would have been used to transport small, pre-grown plants to the area where they were transplanted into the ground. It appeared that the grow-op had been operating in the area for at least two years.

      I want to provide the following list of materials located and eventually seized from the area. They may not be used in all grow-ops out there but it could get the wheels turning if you come across someone with these materials. If you believe you may have discovered a growop, do not approach the suspects or go searching for the plants. Leave the area and contact your local police agency. You'll notice a lot of these materials would be found in a hunting camp, but if something doesn't feel right it probably isn't.


     The local RCMP officers were contacted after our discovery and they responded to the area for assistance. All the plants were cut down and we utilized ATVs to transport the plants and various items out of the forest. All the items were seized underManitoba Crown Lands Act as there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute the three suspects. Officers spent two days cleaning up the site, which consisted of several truckloads of litter, equipment, and miscellaneous items. The marihuana plants were burned at the local landfill
while officers watched upwind.



 


     Environmentally, marihuana grow-ops can cause significant damage to natural areas throughout our forests. The impact on water quality and the forest ecosystem can take many years to return to normal, not to mention the unsightly litter spread throughout the area. Numerous trees were cut along the pond, which can affect the soil structure and would take many years to grow back. Officers returned to the area a year later and discovered an overgrowth of weed-like plants that would make it virtually impossible for trees to grow. I'm
not a botanist, but I believe the fertilizers that were added to the area contributed to the dense weed growth.

.     So far, game wardens in Manitoba aren't typically involved in searching for crown land growops, but we sometimes inadvertently discover them.  Maybe one day, we will be like the California game wardens on the television show Wild Justice who actively search out and police their public and protected lands from these operations which affect our natural areas and breed criminal activities.

    Government of Canada has started spelling the drug it called “Marihuana” as “Marijuana” (sometimes)

     As the debate about the place of cannabis in polite Canadian society has accelerated, along with steps to further legitimize its distribution for medicinal purposes, one specific quirk has seemed to draw an increasing amount of attention: How the government spells a certain nine-letter synonym.

     “Marihuana” has remained the standard in most federal communications, in order to remain consistent, even though the choice of more phonetic Mexican Spanish spelling preceded common recreational use and its regular appearance in the news media as “marijuana.”

     The clash between the legal “h” and casual “j” has also persisted in several states south of the border. But a definitive answer about why has remained elusive — even to the High Times magazine editorial board. Nonetheless, the standard spelling dictated by The Canadian Press does not cut “marihuana” any slack as “marijuana” has long been established in the English language.

    As a result, journalists, politicians, and others inclined to follow police departments on Twitter cannot avoid remarking upon how unusual it looks, whatever the context.


Author: Matt Burke.
Matt is amember of the
Manitoba Natural Resource Officers Association

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