March 2, 2004 - The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Canadian Pot A Growing Concern, U.S. Says

By Barrie McKenna, with reports from Todd Hurman and Colin Freeze

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WASHINGTON -- A doubling of marijuana busts on the Canada-U.S. border, along with the discovery of increasingly sophisticated growing factories, has convinced the Bush administration that the Canadian pot problem is far worse than previously thought.

The warning is contained in the U.S. State Department's annual report card on international narcotics control efforts.

While Canadian officials caution that the Americans may be reading too much into recent seizure statistics, the report released yesterday in Washington says Canada is a major source of highly potent hydroponic marijuana. It also identifies Canada as a transit-point for vast quantities of pseudoephedrine, which is used in making synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines.

Both industries are of significant and growing concern to the Bush administration because so much of the production winds up south of the border, U.S. assistant secretary of state Robert Charles said.

"Any government which does not . . . take more seriously the production and transshipment of a schedule-1 narcotic is going to face serious follow-on questions," Mr. Charles said.

Schedule-1 drugs are the most potent and harmful drugs classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other schedule-1 narcotics include LSD and heroin.

The otherwise favourable report identified a "significant increase" in pot seizures along the Canada-U.S. border in 2003 -- 48,087 pounds ( 21,772 kilograms ), up from 26,435 pounds the previous year.

This has led the administration to conclude that "production in Canada may be higher than previously estimated," according to the report. Without making a precise estimate of its own, the report said the increased seizures mean that the "U.S. government believes that the figure could be much higher."

The RCMP has traditionally estimated that Canada produces roughly 800 metric tonnes of marijuana per year, but a State Department official said Canada is likely producing at least 1,000 tonnes a year. The Mounties are sticking by their estimate for the time being.

"It is an estimate. Now that estimate, while it is admittedly conservative, it is based upon the actual seizures that are made in Canada which have remained relatively constant over the last several years," RCMP spokesman Staff Sergeant Paul Marsh said.

The force hasn't yet released its 2003 statistics. The increased marijuana seizures could indicate a drastic increase in border security measures rather than a huge spike in Canadian pot production, Staff Sgt. Marsh said.

The U.S. report says Mexico remains the largest foreign supplier of marijuana to the United States.

Last year, an RCMP report on marijuana cultivation trends said that "no city or town in Canada can claim to be absolutely free of any marijuana growing activities."

It also said that Vietnamese and biker gangs have gone national, setting up increasingly sophisticated grow operations that produce for export. In January, 25,000 pot plants were discovered inside a former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ont., where up to 50 employees worked.

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