RCMP expect to destroy 30,000 marijuana plants or equivalent of 3 million joints on Vancouver Island
BY DANIELLE BELL, CANWEST NEWS SERVICE
It's harvest time for police on Vancouver Island, who are taking to the skies in their quest to dismantle marijuana-growing operations.
Led by the RCMP Federal Drug Enforcement Branch with the assistance of the Canadian Forces, officers from detachments across the Island are hoisted from helicopters to destroy plants in areas that are often remote with rugged terrain. Police expect to eradicate at least 30,000 plants this season. They estimate that would be equivalent to approximately three million joints
While Island pot growers earlier predicted a bumper crop of bud this summer, with ideal weather feeding the sunshine-loving plants, cops say they are getting better at busting bigger crops each year.
Police have already surpassed last year's total, seizing 24,500 plants since harvesting kicked off last week.
Police are keeping the locations secret but they will hit more than 400 sites this summer, mostly concentrated in the central-to-north region of the Island. The duration of the run is also not given away although the Island growing cycle tends to be late May to early August, according to Vancouver Island RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan.
The complex growing operations, often buried deep within the woods, usually range in size from 200 to 900 plants. Police say cultivating such a crop takes considerable money, time and dedication that is beyond the average pot-grower.
Some divert water from streams while others use sophisticated irrigation systems, although police believe parched regions may have posed irrigation problems this season. Many sites are only accessible with ATVs or dirt bikes.
Police believe the south Island has fewer growing operations because the area is more heavily populated.
Arresting anyone in connection with the drug crop is unlikely, since police say the noise of the chopper blades gives them away, but Lagan said the goal is to eliminate grow-ops altogether. While police recognize they are likely not scooping up every single crop, Lagan said the roundup makes a "significant impact" against criminal activity, where drug money fuels crime groups in B.C.
Police no longer estimate the dollar value of a grow-op but in the past estimated that each plant is worth $1,000 on the street. That means larger busts, like a 900-plant operation police discovered near Sooke last week, can be worth nearly $1 million.
"We're targeting people who are producing substantial amounts," said Lagan on Tuesday. "It's very worthwhile. They're always changing tactics and we're always changing our tactics."
RCMP officers help predetermine the seasonal crackdown by building up a database of potential pot sites when the helicopters cruise over the Island in other duties.
Spotted from the sky, police say grow-ops resemble broccoli and are a different shade of green than surrounding vegetation.