RCMP Says Housing Crash Lures Marijuana Growers to U.S.

Cheaper real estate means higher profits for traffickers

The U.S. housing crash has lured some marijuana growers to move their operations south of the border, according to an internal RCMP report obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

"Some VOC [Vietnamese Organized Crime] groups have moved their marijuana grow operations to the United States where the lower cost of real estate (in some regions) allows them to operate a more profitable enterprise and where they can also avoid police/customs detection at the border," states the RCMP report.

The report, obtained by The Sun through the Access to Information Act, also argues that the "softening of marijuana laws" in some states has made the U.S. a more attractive destination for growers than it once was.

For more than a decade Canada has been home to a multibillion-dollar marijuana-growing industry, the bulk of whose product has been shipped to the U.S.

B.C., where the largest number of those operations are located, has generally been seen as an attractive place for drug gangs to set up shop because the legal penalties for growing marijuana here are more lenient than in the U.S.

However, the RCMP report suggests the dramatic plunge in U.S. house prices has caused some gangsters to re-evaluate whether B.C. is really the best place to do business.

Since 2007, house prices in the U.S. have dropped by roughly a third nationwide and in some markets, like Las Vegas, by more than half.

During that same period, prices in most Canadian cities have been flat or rising, with particularly large price gains in Metro Vancouver.

Growing operations tend to be located in residential properties so real estate is one of the biggest expenses for growers.

Lt. Richard Wiley of the Washington State Patrol's narcotics division said he's seen an increase in the last few years in Asian crime groups from Canada setting up growing operations in the state.

"There's no doubt that organizations involved in marijuana production in Canada have moved to the United States in large numbers," he said. "There's a significant number of them in the Puget Sound area, but they're also in many other parts of the United States: the San Francisco Bay Area, Houston. They're quite spread out in the United States now."

However, Wiley said he thinks avoiding border patrols, rather than cheap housing, is the main reason for the shift.

RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Julie Gagnon wrote in an email that while the force is aware of the trend, so far it hasn't caused a major dent in the number of growers in this country.

"As the report indicates, we have only seen 'some' take advantage of the current U.S. situation by moving their operations entirely south of the border," wrote Gagnon, adding other Vietnamese gangs are sharing information on growing marijuana with their counterparts in the U.S.

In recent years, Vietnamese gangs have come to dominate the marijuana trade in B.C., with some experts suggesting the majority of growers in B.C. are now of Vietnamese origin.

The information on marijuana growers was contained in an annual Crime Threat Assessment prepared last year by the RCMP's criminal intelligence branch.

- Article Originally from The Vancouver Sun.


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