Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Canadians vs. Pot - Working Smart

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.

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

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.

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.

So... less energy gets spent, lives are potentially saved from electrical accidents, pot growers are discouraged without any of the associated cost with police operations, courts, jail... for the cost of a handful of people working smart. I wonder how would that be approached in other countries...

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