Special to The Province
Monday, October 25, 2004
SALMO -- RCMP suspect commercial pot growers in the West Kootenay region have gone underground -- literally.
"There is some indication that grow activity has moved into various mines," Cpl. Neil Cross of Salmo RCMP said yesterday.
"We wanted to see for ourselves and do some training."
So, last week, about 36 specially equipped officers swarmed an old, abandoned mine deep in the hills outside this small community south of Nelson.
It was part training exercise, part hunch.
The Canex mine -- abandoned by lead-zinc giant Cominco three decades ago -- consists of about 30 kilometres of tunnels and caverns, some large enough to drive into.
RCMP spent about three hours in the old mine. They didn't find evidence of a grow-op, but say that doesn't mean one wasn't there at some point.
Police say Canex and other abandoned mines in the province could be used as large-scale grow-ops.
"There are a half-dozen mines I can think of within 25 kilometres of here," said Cross. "They are out of the way, hidden, with large cavities that can be used for that type of thing."
RCMP checked the mine's logistics with the B.C. government before moving in with special gear to go deep underground.
"You could have gasses, sections that are in danger of collapse," said Cross.
"There's also miles and miles of tunnels in there where you could get lost. We made sure we knew what was in there and had proper air packs, that kind of thing."
The idea of growing pot in underground mines is not new. Several years ago, the federal government awarded a contract to grow "medical" marijuana to a company in Flin Flon, Man. The pot was grown under hydroponic grow lights at an old Hudson's Bay Mining and Smelting Co. underground mine.
Police say the same method could be used by illegal growers with generators and some imagination.
"The business is constantly changing. There are always new and innovative ideas," said Cross.
Added Salmo Mayor Rick Korens: "There are some pretty ingenious people around here. It's completely plausible. [The old Canex mine] is a huge cavern. You could drive a truck in there."