Police fear gang war over pot: Price drop expected to ignite violence between crime groups
Chad Skelton, With Files From Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, June 10, 2005
Police fear a recent drop in the price of marijuana in B.C. could lead to increased gang violence as rival organized crime groups battle for control of the province's $6-billion pot trade.
Inspector Paul Nadeau of the RCMP's Coordinated Marijuana Enforcement Team said B.C.'s rapidly expanding marijuana trade has been relatively stable for the past several years, with rival gangs sharing the trade's immense profits.
But recent police intelligence indicates the wholesale price of marijuana has dropped dramatically in recent months, from its normal level of $2,000 to $2,500 a pound to as low as $1,500.
And with fewer profits to go around, Nadeau said, police are bracing themselves for a turf war.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, police say, the province's marijuana trade was dominated by outlaw motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels and a smaller number of independent, "mom-and-pop" operations.
But in the mid-1990s, according to police intelligence reports, Vietnamese gangs began to make substantial inroads into the trade.
Since then, Vietnamese gangs have come to dominate the province's pot trade, especially in the Lower Mainland.
That dominance was highlighted in a recent study by the University College of the Fraser Valley that looked at all marijuana police files in the province from 1997 to 2000.
In 1997, five per cent of marijuana growing suspects identified in Vancouver were of Vietnamese origin, the study found.
By 2000, they made up 87 per cent of all suspects.
The trend was the same, if less dramatic, for the province as a whole -- with the percentage of Vietnamese suspects rising from two per cent to 39 per cent over the same three-year period -- a nearly 20-fold increase.
And, according to police, Vietnamese gangs have only further consolidated their hold on the province's marijuana trade.
Sgt. Gord Friesen, head of the Surrey RCMP drug section, said about 90 per cent of the suspects arrested for marijuana growing in his city now are Vietnamese.
Often in concert with corrupt real estate agents, the gangs purchase or lease houses that meet their specific needs -- ideally with a chimney, for venting out fumes, and unfinished basements to make wiring up the operation easier.
The gangs then typically recruit recent immigrants to tend the plants in exchange for living in the house rent-free.
A separate team of harvesters then comes every few months to take the plants.
Friesen said police believe dozens of separate Vietnamese gangs each control a network of between six and 25 growing operations.
And the other major markets for B.C. "bud" -- Ontario and Quebec -- are increasingly producing their own hydroponic marijuana.
In the past, Nadeau said, B.C. produced well over half of all the marijuana in Canada. Now, while B.C. still produces more than any other province, its share has dropped to about 40 per cent.
"My personal belief is that over time we may see more marijuana grown in the east than here, simply because the market in the east is much larger than here," he said.
Det. Jim Fisher, a Vancouver police department expert on Asian gangs, said even Chinese gangs such as the Big Circle Boys, which traditionally focused on importing heroin into B.C., are getting involved in pot.
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