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  1. Alfa
    CITY'S WAR ON WEED

    The City of Abbotsford is looking to smoke-out pot cultivators as part
    of a pledge to help police crack down on marijuana grow-ops.

    Abbotsford Police Chief Constable Ian Mackenzie told city council
    yesterday he is giving his support to the National Co-ordinating
    Committee Report on Marijuana Grow Operations.

    The report addresses issues raised by Ed Keyes, president of the
    Canadian Association of Police Boards, which suggest how local
    governments can assist in the march against marijuana.

    But while approving the report, councillors also used the discussions
    to hammer home their stance on the pot issue.

    Simon Gibson said the drug message coming from Ottawa is "entirely
    different" to that being pressed by city hall. He also said the
    Liberal party has a "laissez-faire" attitude to marijuana grow operations.

    Ed Fast agreed.

    "We have a justice system that's supposed to protect us but many
    citizens feel that our justice system no longer does that."

    As a result, Fast suggested the city take matters into its own
    hands.

    "We need to make it as non-profitable as possible for criminal
    enterprises to work here," he said.

    Whether or not people agree with the "bigger picture" of prohibiting
    marijuana, Mackenzie said no one wants a grow-op in their
    neighbourhood.

    "Certainly the message we are getting from citizens is that this in a
    large concern in Abbotsford," he said.

    Gibson asked for an approximate cost as to how much grow-ops cost
    Abbotsford taxpayers each year. Mackenzie was unable to answer, but
    did point out that eight officers are assigned to the force's drug
    squad, and the "vast majority" of their work is grow-op related.

    Averaging out at $125,000 for each officer per year, plus the time
    other Abbotsford police staff spend addressing the issue, Mackenzie
    concluded that it is a "significant cost."

    Mackenzie said the Controlled Substance Bylaw, which allows Abbotsford
    Police to charge for dismantling grow-ops, is "beneficial."

    However, he believes city bylaws could go further, and suggested the
    introduction of a bylaw targeting people and businesses "obviously
    selling" drug paraphernalia. Overall, Mackenzie encouraged the city to
    do as much as possible to assist Abbotsford's police force.

    "That's one area we should look at . . . the complexities of enforcing
    the law are very time consuming," he said.

    Lynne Harris asked Mackenzie whether Abbotsford Police had "a little
    better handle" on grow-ops in the city.

    Mackenzie
    said the force was making "some progress," increasing
    marijuana busts over the past year by 44 per cent. However, he
    admitted the force was having to work from the bottom to the top.

    "We are yet to tackle the higher levels of organized crime behind
    these grow-ops," Mackenzie said. "At the moment, we are attacking the
    symptoms rather than the cause."

    Abbotsford Mayor Mary Reeves said that, in terms of organized crime,
    "if it wasn't marijuana then it would be something else. "Legalizing
    marijuana will not make the organized crime element go away," she added.

    George Peary addressed a number of complaints from residents who said
    the police "did nothing" when they called-in a grow-op in their
    neighbourhood.

    Mackenzie said it can take time for police to respond, pointing out
    that officers first have to check out the location and then collect
    enough evidence, to be submitted to a justice of the peace, that
    provides "reasonable grounds" for a search warrant.

    Mackenzie says it then takes "five or six officers" to block off roads
    and execute the marijuana bust.

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