Thursday, October 11, 2007

Canada cuts power lines to battle cannabis

Hey the DEA should take some pointers from the Canadians.
Makes perfect sense to me. But I am sure the ACLU would be all over this here in the US as some sort of right infringement here.

It's not hard for police to identify the pot growers in this western Canada town: They merely scan residents' utility bills to determine who is using a lot more power than the average homeowner.

Armed with that information, local authorities cut the power off to the home of the suspected offender, often leaving scores of pot growers without the artifical light and water needed to cultivate their home-grown cash crop.

British Columbia, with a population of four million, has an estimated 20,000 inhabitants who raise a potent local marijuana known here as "B.C. Bud."

The plants, collectively worth nearly seven billion dollars each year, account for a whopping six percent of this province's power consumption.

The labor-intensive crop is an energy sponge thanks in large part to the 1,000 watt halogen lights, fans, irrigation pumps and other equipment needed for their cultivation. As a result, the pot growers' energy bills are about three times that of the average consumer.

Those energy consumption patterns drew the notice of authorities, who have benefitted from a 2006 law allowing BC Hydro, the area's main power company, to share its residential power consumption records with local officials.

Armed with a list of likely offenders, a team of inspectors -- including a firefighter, an electrician, an admistrative employee and two policmen -- is dispatched to each suspect residence.

"We inspect between 70 and 80 homes a month, said Len Garis, head of firefighters in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver.

Inspectors are looking to verify, first and foremost, that the power lines' insulation coating is in good condition and that the circuit breakers are working properly.

About 90 percent of the time, this is not the case: Inspections often reveal serious problems in the electrical connections as a result of the high demands placed on them. According to the city, pot growers' homes have a 24 times greater chance than the average home of catching fire and burning down.

In the event of electrical problems, the current to the home is cut and cannot be reestablished until repairs are made.

The inspection team rarely sees the real target of the operation -- the pot plants -- because authorities are obliged by law to notify residents at least 48 hours prior to an inspection. The early tip usually gives the home pot grower more that adequate time to stow away his illicit crop.

"It's not about a criminal operation, but simply a means of insuring security for the people," said Joel Giebelhaus, an aide to Surrey's mayor.

Since the beginning of inspections in 2006, the number of home cannabis plantations has dropped by 65 percent in Surrey and 14 other towns in the province participating in the power-cutoff approach to the war on drugs.

"I'm afraid of these inspections," one local marijuana farmer told AFP, under condition of anonymity, acknowledging that without power, it would be impossible to operate the powerful lights he has going 18 hours a day to keep his pot plants growing.

It is not a one-sided battle however.

Marc Emery, who heads the "BC Marijuana Party," a small political group pushing for the legalization of pot, insisted that the province's offensive will prove futile, as growers figure out new methods to grow their crops without overtaxing the power infrastructure.

For example, one company selling hydroponic crop equipment also stocks a lamp that consumes 80 percent less energy than the traditional grow lamps.

In a counter-punch however, officials in some localities decided in late September to impose tighter restrictions on the companies selling hydroponic growing equipment.

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