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    MASSIVE POT CROP VALUED AT $30M

    'Factory' in brewery biggest yet: police

    BARRIE, Ont. -- A marijuana "factory" concealed within a sprawling old
    brewery just steps from one of Ontario's busiest highways is proof Canada's
    pot problem has reached "epidemic proportions," police said yesterday.

    The former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ont., plainly visible from Highway 400,
    one of the province's busiest commuter routes, was raided on the weekend by
    some 100 city and provincial police officers acting on a tip.

    Inside, police found marijuana with what they said had an estimated street
    value of $30 million, along with a grow operation of staggering proportions
    -- the largest and most sophisticated in modern Canadian history.

    "This is not a ma-and-pa operation," Barrie police Chief Wayne Frechette
    wryly told a news conference in this central Ontario city an hour's drive
    north of Toronto.

    Across a 5,400-square-metre complex the size of a football field, police
    found more than 25,000 pot plants growing everywhere -- even inside the
    cavernous indoor vats once used to brew beer.

    Molson closed the brewery in 2000 and sold it to a company that leases space
    to about half a dozen businesses. The other companies included trucking
    companies and a bottling company, police said. A police video shot shortly
    after the raid showed the vats teeming with marijuana plants and an
    elaborate electrical room where hydro was used to power the lights that
    facilitate the growing process.

    Huge drawers, used to spread harvested marijuana out to allow it to dry,
    were seen in the video, each one brimming with buds.

    "This particular marijuana factory is the largest and most sophisticated I'm
    aware of in Canada," said provincial police deputy commissioner Vaughn
    Collins.

    "Commercial marijuana operations have reached epidemic proportions in
    Ontario; they are in every community and most are controlled by organized
    crime."

    The facility was set up to operate 24 hours a day and included living
    quarters capable of housing as many as 50 people at once, said OPP Det.
    Staff Sgt. Rick Barnum.

    "These areas... included common areas with beds, televisions, fridges and
    stoves similar to dormitory-type facilities," Barnum said. Nine people were
    charged, eight of them with one count each of production of a controlled
    substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking.

    Charged are Robert Bleich, 29, of Stayner, Ont.; Tomas Gates, 33, of
    Corunna, Ont.; Michael DiCicco, 60, and Scott Dillon, 23, both of Toronto;
    Scott Walker, 34, and Zoran Stojanovic, 49, both of St. Catharines, Ont.;
    and Edward MacAdam, 43, and Craig Walker, 24, both of Niagara Falls, Ont.

    Rayne Sauve, 36, of St. Catharines, Ont., was also charged with one count of
    production of a controlled substance as well as one charge each of
    possession of cocaine, possession of ecstasy and possession for the purpose
    of trafficking.

    A second grow house was also discovered Sunday just north of the city.
    Investigators seized more than 30,000 marijuana plants from the two
    locations.

    The brewery operation is almost certainly not the only one of its scale in
    Canada, law enforcement officials warned.

    "Just because we have not stumbled on them... doesn't mean they're not
    there," said RCMP Chief Supt. Raf Souccar, the force's director-general of
    drugs and organized crime.

    "The risk is low, the profit is high, deterrence is not there, so it makes
    it an attractive proposition."

    Police estimate there are some 15,000 illegal marijuana grow operations in
    Ontario.

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