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  1. Alfa
    IT'S HARVEST SEASON -- FOR POT

    Nationwide, Pot Growers Piggyback on Farmers' Fields

    MONTREAL -- Every harvest, he sees strange miniature crop circles in
    his corn fields that anybody but a seasoned farmer might believe had
    been put there by aliens.

    The circles, spaced evenly along endless rows of withering feed-corn
    stalks, are evidence of Quebec's most profitable cash crop -- marijuana.

    "By the time I get to my field (usually in mid-October), the marijuana
    plants are long gone," he says. "They cut it just after the first frost."

    Like every farmer interviewed for this story, he didn't want his real
    name used. Too many farmers have been threatened, shot at or seen
    their equipment vandalized by people they believe to be pot growers.

    This is the season when alien trespassers invade the countryside and
    cash in on the lucrative marijuana crop. It's a nationwide phenomenon
    that in Quebec alone is worth about a billion dollars.

    "It's an industry that's putting a lot of money into the hands of
    organized crime," said Lieut. Jean Audette of the Quebec provincial
    police. "It's not just weed; it's a commodity that makes a fortune,
    and that's what makes it dangerous.... All organized crime is
    involved." Police now see biker gangs working with Russian and Italian
    crime groups.

    Staff Sgt. Rick Barnum of Ontario's drug-enforcement squad said most
    Canadian-grown marijuana goes to the U.S., where traffickers get
    $3,000 to $4,000 a pound in the East and as much as $7,000 in California.

    "Our marijuana is considered to be phenomenal in other parts of the
    world," he said. "It hits the streets in Canada as a clean trade for
    cocaine."

    As co-ordinator of Program Ciseaux in Quebec, Jean Audette is the man
    ultimately responsible for destroying potgrowing operations. It's not
    an easy job.

    Last year, Quebec police confiscated 392,885 plants, compared with
    73,491 in 1993. The huge increase reflects the expansion of marijuana
    cultivation.

    Police say the pot-growing industry is one reason for the lawlessness
    that has taken hold in some communities. It's also behind the threats
    and vandalism that have made farmers fearful of challenging growers.

    Another concern is that pot consumption appears to be rising in
    Quebec's schools. In some areas, educators claim anywhere from 25 to
    50 per cent of
    boys smoke it regularly.

    While federal government reports have recommended decriminalization,
    no action has been taken and possession of pot remains a criminal
    offence subject to fines or jail terms. But normally police don't
    bother with simple possession, which is defined in law as anything
    less than 30 grams -- about one ounce.

    One officer said the result of this laissez-faire attitude is that
    dealers enjoy an unfettered street market in small quantities of pot.

    There are also concerns that pot is not the same "soft" drug it used
    to be. Genetic manipulation has produced strains 10 to 20 times more
    powerful than the weed smoked at long-ago pop festivals such as Woodstock.

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