Harsh spring stunts Vancouver Island’s outdoor grows

Police scanning from the skies for illegal marijuana grow operations on Vancouver Island this summer report fewer outdoor grows, fewer plants per grow and smaller yields per plant.

In a release Wednesday on this summer’s airborne surveillance program over Crown land, Vancouver Island RCMP noted a “marked reduction in the size of individual plants” compared to past years.

The smaller plant sizes, RCMP said, were likely due to the “lack of sun hours and reduced temperatures” at the outset of this year’s outdoor growing season.

More noticeable, however, was the “marked decline” in the number of outdoor production sites on Crown land for the illicit marijuana crop, and a reduced number of plants found at those sites, the Mounties said.

RCMP reported finding and destroying just 7,281 plants at outdoor grows on the island this season, down from a five-year high of 30,072 in 2010, 29,388 in 2009 and 24,358 in 2008.

While not disclosing any specific details on individual sites harvested, RCMP also noted a “significantly” lower number of large-scale outdoor grow sites compared to previous years.

The overall size of individual sites varied, from a “more common” size of fewer than 100 plants, up to the largest single site of about 450 plants, the Mounties said.

The annual airborne effort is a joint project of the RCMP’s federal-level drug enforcement branch, along with Vancouver Island RCMP and police departments in Victoria and Saanich. Canadian Forces helicopters are also used to access some remote grow sites.

“Our efforts over the past decade to destroy this annual crop appear to have paid off,” program spokesperson Cpl. Darren Lagan said in the Mounties’ release. “The loss of over 30,000 plants last year alone sent a strong message to those responsible for this illegal activity. It will not be left unchecked, and we will return year after year to destroy it.”

An often-quoted 2004 report from the B.C.-based Fraser Institute estimated grow-op marijuana sales as forming roughly 2.8 per cent (or $3.66 billion) of the province’s $130.8 billion gross domestic product in 2000, assuming a per-kilogram price of $5,077.

By comparison, B.C.’s farm cash receipts from legitimate agricultural products in 2010 were about $2.42 billion, according to Statistics Canada.

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