I tend to think there is an awareness of the dangers posed to property, in large part driven by media coverage of the issue, but overall, our desire to see the drug legalized or decriminalized would have us turn a blind eye to grow ops in our neighbourhoods.
I think the province needs to come up with ways to address some of the problems that arise under our current legal structure, but I think it’s misguided to suggest people aren’t aware of the property damage or other issues around grow ops.
This is an issue that has garnered big coverage for the last decade, and reminded me of a feature I wrote when I was a young-ish reporter, way back in 2006:
Between Oct. 3, 2005, and Sept. 28, 2006, executive orders were put in place by the Calgary Health Region condemning or clearing 223 homes used as marijuana grow operations. Millions of dollars worth of city real estate was declared unfit for human habitation or deemed safe to live in again, but only after a lengthy and costly cleanup. Few parts of the city were left untouched by a lucrative criminal enterprise, one considered by law enforcement as a low-risk, high-reward venture. The Sun’s DaveBreakenridge looks at the long list of Calgary’s growing problem.
It looks like any other house, but what lurks within is of serious concern.
Mould, fertilizer and pesticides are the likely culprits, as is the threat of fire and electrocution from the previous resident’s illegal operations.
The blinds are always drawn, the occupants keep to themselves, leaving neighbours suspicious but oblivious, until one day the cops come knocking.
Ray and Eileen, who live near a house in Deer Run raided last fall, said they were surprised to find the police clearing out their neighbour’s unassuming bungalow.
“It was always only one guy in there,” said Ray, who didn’t want his last name used, adding the man who was living in the house kept the front yard clean and the grass cut.
“All of a sudden, there are all these cops there.”
Eileen said after sitting vacant for months, the home was sold and fixed up and is now occupied by a young couple.
Daryl Hill, who lives in Woodbine, said he was shocked to see the cops raiding a nearby home two months ago, less than a year after new people moved in.
“One day we had 15 vehicles from the city out front,” he said.
“It’s a shame and a shock for us. It’s normally somewhere else, never across the street.”
The home now sits vacant, with the condemnation order visible in the window.
From Saddle Ridge to Sundance, Erin Woods to Arbour Lake, grow-ops are popping up faster than ever, leaving behind a slew of serious health and safety hazards.
Vicki Wearmouth, the CHR’s grow-op inspector, says what she finds in an overwhelming majority of these homes puts people’s health at risk.
“I know most people think the mould is the big issue, but that’s just part of it,” said Wearmouth, who visits 90% of the homes raided by police.
“We have chemical contamination — a whole variety of fertilizers and pesticides, usually mixed together in a slurry.”
Those chemicals are sprayed not just over the pot plants, but on walls and ceilings, creating a toxic build-up that could potentially make people sick.
People who run grow-ops will also routinely damage a home’s structure trying to illegally tap into a power source.
After a grow-op is raided, Wearmouth said, the city often shuts off the power, water and gas to the home.
“And that combined is an unfit environment to live in,” she said.
But just because it’s condemned, doesn’t mean it can’t be sold, Wearmouth said.
“As long as it’s not causing a nuisance to the neighbourhood, it can remain in that condition,” she said.
But for someone to live in any of the homes again, every item in the condemnation order has to be repaired, in some cases meaning the home has to be gutted.
“In each order, we indicate what we want done, whether it’s removal of all the drywall, insulation and vapour barrier, and sometimes it’s just cleaning,” Wearmouth said, adding the worst home she inspected ended up being torn down.
To have an order lifted, a homeowner needs to meet all the conditions of the inspector, and the work needs to be done by licensed contractors and environmental consultants.
It usually costs a minimum of $35,000 to clean up a house.
Wearmouth signs off on all orders lifted, and says people shouldn’t worry about their health if they’re moving into one of these homes.
One house cleared in the last year, recently adorned with Halloween decorations, has evidence a lot of work was done to clean it up.
“I like to think it’s a safe place to live in,” she said.
“I can only imagine the paperwork that comes across my desk is legitimate. That’s why we ask for qualified, licensed contractors and environmental companies.
“But there’s never a 100-percent guarantee.”
KNOW WHEN A HOME’S GONE TO POT
The clues of marijuana growing operations may include:
- Covered windows. (i.e. foil)
- Continual and suspicious comings and goings
- People hauling or constructing a watering system into a building.
- People hauling suspicious types of material or garbage away from their buildings and property. (i.e. plastic sheeting, fertilizer bags or containers, plant stocks, plastic piping materials, plastic pots, CO2 tanks, fuel tanks, etc.)
- Abnormally warm buildings. (In winter, snow may melt off the roofs of buildings.)
- Loud exhaust or humidifier fans
- Unusual “skunky” smell emanating from the exhaust fans
- Heavy deodorants and/or air fresheners to mask the smell of marijuana
- The noise of a diesel/ gas/propane power generator. (Diversionary method of providing electricity for the grow site.)
- Unusual electrical hook-ups
- Humming sounds given off by lights and electrical transformers used to provide heat and false sunlight.