Saturday, November 25, 2017

Illegal Grow-ops May Be Hazardous To Your Health!

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News Bite - Dangerous Mold Levels In Colorado Illegal Cannabis Grow Ops
Ganja Geezer
Published on Sep 11, 2012
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Marijuana farmers are destroying natural ecosystems as quest for profits outweighs “green” agricultural practices
by: Isabelle Z.
Monday, November 20, 2017
(Natural News) People who turn to medical marijuana are often drawn to the fact that it’s natural. This is indeed a great quality from a health standpoint, but environment-minded marijuana buyers, take note: New research shows that marijuana farming in remote locations is having a negative effect on the environment.
After studying the ecological consequences that marijuana farming had in Northern California, researchers from Ithaca College discovered that small farms were having a surprisingly big impact.
In a press release, the college’s Environmental Science Associate Professor Jake Brenner wrote that cannabis has significant environmental impacts despite its small spatial footprint. He suggests that policymakers put land-use and environmental regulations in place to help control the expansion of cannabis crops before the situation grows more widespread, given the increase in legalization and popularity of the plant. Cannabis now enjoys legalization for varying degrees of medicinal and/or recreational use across 30 states in the U.S. and several other countries.
They reached their conclusions after comparing cannabis cultivation’s environmental effects, including forest fragmentation, the loss of habitats, and deforestation. In fact, the researchers pointed out that cannabis causes bigger changes in several key metrics in terms of unit area compared to timber, although the latter’s overall landscape impact remains greater.
For example, after looking at pot farms in 62 random watersheds in Humboldt County from 2000 to 2013, the crop was shown to cause 1.5 times greater forest loss and 2.5 times more forest fragmentation than timber harvest.
California laws on marijuana cultivation inadvertently hurting the environment
Little is known about the long-term impact of marijuana farming or regulations in the industry as policymaking struggles to stay on top of the industry’s growth. Part of the problem is that California laws state marijuana cultivation must be confined to just one acre per land parcel. By preventing wide-scale industrial marijuana farms, this law is actually encouraging small farms with big environmental impacts to proliferate, breaking up the forest and hurting wildlife habitats.
This adds on to previous studies carried out by the same research team showing that the pesticides used on marijuana farms to keep rodents away can hurt mammals in the area, while irrigation is having a negative impact on local wildlife. Moreover, because their locations are typically quite remote, access roads must be created and land must be cleared for production. That report suggested that growing marijuana in places with gentler slopes, plenty of water sources, and better access to roads could help reduce the threats to the environment significantly. Marijuana can also be cultivated indoors.
Those growing the crop should avoid using chemical pesticides for obvious reasons. It’s not just bad for the environment; it’s also terrible for your health. Indeed, pesticide exposure could be behind the cancer that spurs many people to seek medical marijuana in the first place. Some illegal forest growers have been using pesticides like carbofuran, which has long been banned in the country, and it’s now making its way into the water. This causes headaches, vomiting, muscle twitches, dizziness, convulsions and even death in some cases. California is home to more than 90 percent of the illegal pot farms found in the nation.
Profits coming at expense of environment
Unfortunately, there are a lot of profits to be made here, and some of the less scrupulous growers are focusing on profits at the expense of the environment. By raising awareness about the potential impact, it is hoped that such parties will turn to more responsible growing practices in the future. As the scientists in these studies point out, however, there isn’t much research available about land-use science when it comes to cannabis agriculture.
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Banned pesticides from illegal pot farms seep into California water
Sharon Bernstein
September 8, 2017
Ecologist Mourad Gabriel of Integral Ecology Research Center stands amid an illegal marijuana grow site in Northern California, U.S. in this September 25, 2014 photo. Courtesy Mark Higley/Hoopa Valley Tribal Forestry/University of California Davis Faculty/Handout via REUTERS
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Toxic chemicals from illegal marijuana farms hidden deep in California’s forests are showing up in rivers and streams that feed the state’s water supply, prompting fears that humans and animals may be at risk, data reviewed by Reuters show.
The presence of potentially deadly pollutants in eight Northern and Central California watersheds is the latest sign of damage to the environment from thousands of illegal cannabis plantations, many of them run by drug cartels serving customers in other states, according to law enforcement.
“I don’t drink out of the creeks - and I used to,” said Sergeant Nathaniel Trujillo, a narcotics expert with the sheriff’s department of Trinity County, about 200 miles north of San Francisco. “I grew up drinking out of them.”
California accounts for more than 90 percent of illegal U.S. marijuana farming. There are as many as 50,000 marijuana farms in California according to state estimates, and even though voters legalized the drug last November, only about 16,000 growers are expected to seek licenses when commercial cultivation becomes legal next year.
Many of the illegal growers use fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.
The chemicals have turned thousands of acres of forest into waste dumps so toxic that law enforcement officers have been hospitalized after inadvertently touching plants and equipment, and scores of animals have died.
The streams in which they have been detected are crucial sources of water for fish, vulnerable animals including the Pacific fisher and the Northern Spotted Owl and are used for drinking by people and cattle. Ultimately, the contaminated rivers and creeks flow into the massive water supply system relied on by the most populous U.S. state.
“Carbofuran is in the water, and it’s not supposed to be,” said Mourad Gabriel, an ecologist who works with law enforcement on marijuana contamination issues. “How are we going to mitigate something like that?”
Carbofuran poisoning can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, uncontrollable muscle twitching, convulsions and even death, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Poisoning by diazinon, another chemical Gabriel has found in streams, can cause difficulty breathing, weakness, blue lips and fingernails, convulsion and coma, the agency says.
Gabriel, who has visited more than 100 sites in California and is widely considered the leading authority on toxins at marijuana farms, said about half the streams he studied in eight watersheds in the state’s prime pot-growing regions tested positive for contaminants.
In unpublished data seen by Reuters, Gabriel’s testing showed carbofuran, diazinon and other chemicals were present downstream from pot farms in Kern County in Central California, Humboldt County on the state’s northwestern coast, Mendocino County north of Santa Rosa and others. In some cases, the chemicals were present only in trace amounts.
Some streams tested positive more than a year after law enforcement cleared illegal grows from nearby land.
At Brush Mountain in Kern County, law enforcement shut down a growing operation in June 2014, Gabriel said. But testing the following November and December showed the presence of diazinon in a local stream.
Blue-tinted water with fertilizer at an illegal marijuana growing site in Mendocino County, California, U.S. is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on July 25, 2017. Coutesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Handout via REUTERS
CHEMICAL ‘LAYER CAKE’
In further testing in February 2015, the stream appeared to be chemical-free. But chemicals showed up again the following year, Gabriel’s unpublished data show, prompting him to speculate that it can take months or years for chemicals to migrate through the soil.
“It’s like a layer cake,” Gabriel said. “They put chemical on chemical on chemical. We’ll find different chemicals in the water on different years.”
In another instance, a stream in Trinity County tested negative for pesticides in 2014 but positive in December 2016.
The state does not have a comprehensive testing program for marijuana contaminants, and little such work has been done at the local level, officials said.
But many people and animals rely on water from local streams. And some are growing concerned.
Patricia Young, whose family grazes cattle in Shasta County, said eight cows have died suddenly over the past three years near an irrigation channel they use for drinking.
Young said the family was worried the cows died from poisoning from marijuana farms in nearby woods, and they were testing the stream.
The chemicals have been found in game animals, including a quail Gabriel shot and ate with his family, and numerous deer and elk whose livers were tested in a study for the Mule Deer and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundations, he said.
Trujillo, the Trinity County sheriff’s department narcotics sergeant, said his law enforcement dog, a Belgian Malinois named Johnny, almost died from pesticide poisoning after jumping into a reservoir at an illegal marijuana grow.
California is developing regulations for marijuana farms including rules about water quality and pesticide use, but widespread water testing is not included.
The federal government, which owns much of the land on which illegal marijuana grows are planted, has also not conducted extensive testing of streams near the toxic sites, officials said.
Matt St. John, executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in the heart of marijuana country, said his agency is planning to regulate pesticide use by marijuana farmers. But testing streams on a regular basis would be too expensive, he said.
Trinity County supervisors will decide on Sept. 19 whether to authorize a testing program along part of the Trinity River and its tributaries.
“Maybe six months down the road we’ll say water quality wasn’t affected all that much,” said Trinity County Planning Director Leslie Hubbard. “But maybe we’ll say we have a disaster on our hands.”
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Ben Klayman and Cynthia Osterman
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Legalization Won't Root Out California's Toxic Weed Farms. But It's a Start.
Rory Smith
November 6, 2016
The common assumption is that statewide recreational marijuana legalization would be a panacea to the environmental harm of massive illegal weed grows. The reality is not so straightforward.
Two black bears, a deer, and a gray fox.
The decomposing corpses are strewn among 7,000 pounds of propane tanks, tarps, car batteries, fertilizers, pesticides, banned rodenticides from Mexico, and other trash, plus 4,000 pounds of irrigation line blanketing an abandoned 20,000 plant illegal marijuana grow site in northeastern California's Lassen National Forest. What was once unspoiled landscape is now a pockmarked 12-acre slagheap reminiscent of no man's land.
It's one example of thousands of similarly destructive illegal cannabis grows occurring each year on California's public lands, according to Mourad Gabriel, Executive Director and Senior Ecologist at the Integral Ecology Research Center.
Mourad has organized cleanup efforts at this and other illicit marijuana operations in the more remote areas of northern California. When Mourad first started doing this work it was overwhelming for him to see such blatant disregard for the environment. But having now participated in hundreds of cleanups, he's almost inured to the destruction. The day I spoke with Mourad he was joined by a few first-time volunteers. Upon arriving at the former grow site, he said the volunteers stared in awe for minutes, dumbstruck and unable to fathom the damage and waste in front of them.
"You can't even believe that there are folks turning this beautiful pristine area into their trash bin, and it's all for pure greed," Mourad told me. "This is strictly for money, to make as much profit as possible and at the expense of the public good."
"Proposition 215 came in 1995-1996," he added, referring to California's Compassionate Use Act, a landmark piece of legislation that allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess and grow cannabis for medical use. "Look at California now. You're talking two decades and it's just prolifically getting worse. Can our environment really sustain what's been going on for another ten years?"
"You can't even believe that there are folks turning this beautiful pristine area into their trash bin, and it's all for pure greed."
Besides spearheading such large-scale cleanups, Gabriel is also a first-class ecologist. In one of his more prominent and ongoing investigations he has been tracking long-term toxicant levels in Pacific fishers, a threatened species of forest carnivore, and the spotted owl, a federally-listed species, resulting from the chemicals used on illegal marijuana grows. The initial results of the investigation are disheartening.
The common assumption is that legalizing recreational marijuana in California would discourage this sort of large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, and, as consequence, the resulting environmental damage responsible for poisoning wildlife, among other things. A 'yes' vote on Proposition 64, a proposed state law on which Californians will vote this November 8, would permit the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes for adults aged 21 or older. Proposition 64 would also require suppliers to acquire a state license. The bill is expected to pass.
Statewide recreational marijuana legalization, the argument goes, is a panacea to the environmental harm of large-scale illegal cannabis grows in California. But the reality is not so straightforward.
Gabriel prepares the documentation of a cleanup. Photo: IERC
The damage at the Lassen site may seem extreme. But the poisoning and death of animals, including fishers, martens, spotted and barred owls, bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, black bears, deer, quail, rodents, and rabbits; as well as the residual trash resulting from illegal cannabis cultivation, represents only a scintilla of the total damage wrought by these operations.
Deforestationwildfires, and erosion from terracing and the slapdash construction of roads are some of the more visible effects of illegal marijuana grows, according to Karen Escobar, an Assistant US Attorney in California's Eastern District. Diverting and tapping water from streams and springs, exhausting underground aquifers, and overloading watersheds with pesticides, rodenticides, and fertilizers are other ways that illegal grows decimate the environment. One recent study showed illegal marijuana cultivation to be the biggest threat to the survival of federally-listed salmon and trout.
Escobar has spent years prosecuting these operations. The practices being used today at big illegal grows were once considered extreme, according to Escobar. But not anymore.
"The extreme is now the normal," she said.
Read more: California Will Vote on Legalizing Marijuana With Proposition 64
A total of 1,893 illegal outdoor grow sites in California were eliminated in 2015, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Almost half of these were on public lands. With cleanup and rehabilitation efforts ranging between $10,000 and $100,000 per site, the cost of this damage is substantial. And given the remoteness and ruggedness of California's terrain, many grows simply go undetected.
California alone produces 70 percent of the US's total output of both legal and illegal cannabis. It is estimated that this comes out to around 49,106 metric tons per year. The state's climate and geography combine to create the consummate weed-growing conditions.
At the same time, the US opioid epidemic has resulted in the DEA de-emphasizing marijuana operations, according to DEA spokesperson Russell Baer. This has further strained the influence of already underfunded local law agencies. And the 
superabundance of California wildfires only saps enforcement efforts by diverting National Forest Service personnel away from fighting illegal grows. These two factors have created a law-enforcement vacuum in remote areas like Lassen National Forest, with low-risk, high-reward conditions so conducive to criminality.
Add to this medley a large and insatiable pot-smoking population and skyrocketing land prices that push many legitimate growers onto "free" public land, as well as relaxed laws around cannabis cultivation, and it's unsurprising that California has become America's cradle for weed production. In 2015, California accounted for 65 percent of all illegal grows on national forest land across the US, according to the National Forest Service. Domestic drug trafficking organizations manage many of these grows, sending their product to other states where it is still illegal and, ex officio, where profit margins are higher.
But a lot of this marijuana also stays in California.
A typical campsite at an abandoned illegal grow site. Photo: IERC
A typical campsite at an abandoned illegal grow site. Photo: IERC
"11:3:58, which is cultivating marijuana, we call it farming for shorthand," said David Frost, a District Attorney for Monterey County. "The penalty for that is a maximum of three years here in California. It could be sixteen months, two years, or three years."
If guns are involved and it's a federal case, sentences can increase, Frost added. But otherwise, two to three years in a state penitentiary is a pretty small price to pay for a mega-operation with a considerable ecological footprint. And this is assuming there is anyone around when authorities show up.
Having been out in the backcountry for five months or more, the workers tending these farms have perfected their escape routes, according to Mark Sievers, a sergeant at the Monterey County Sheriff's Department, who worked on the "weed team" for many years.
"They hear us long before we get to the garden and so they're gone," Sievers said. "We don't get that many in custody."
Officials survey the deforestation and water diversion of a large illegal marijuana grow in Humboldt County. Photo: Spc. Brianne Roudebush 
Officials survey the deforestation and water diversion of a large illegal marijuana grow in Humboldt County. Photo: Spc. Brianne Roudebush
Not surprisingly, California leads the way in drug trafficking activity. Sixty-one percent of drug trafficking organizations operating on National Forest Service land in the US are in California, according to Forest Service data.
"Most of it is handled locally," said Chris Boehm, the acting director of law enforcement and investigations for the National Forest Service. "The infrastructure, the supply structure, the transport and distribution structure. The product is much easier to produce and in many cases sell [than cocaine]. It lends itself to a whole variety of groups and organizations."
Read more: California to Vote on Wiping Old Weed Arrests
The individuals tending these grows often come from economically vulnerable rungs of society, making them more susceptible to recruitment.
"A lot of them are field workers and are in pretty dire straits. They want to work and make some money," said Charles Lee, a Fresno-based assistant federal defender. "They are told they are going to work on a ranch somewhere remote. They don't even know it's a marijuana grow until they get there and the next they know they're in the middle of nowhere. They don't know the terrain. They don't know the area. They're dropped off and they don't know how to get back to civilization."
Others are forcibly recruited. Bill Abramson, a contract public defender for Plumas County, has heard of cases in which these organizations impel individuals to work by threatening harm against their families.
Many workers aren't even told who they're working for. Information is tightly compartmentalized in order to protect higher ups in the organizations, something that has hamstrung efforts to make any major, penetrating prosecutions.
An illegal poisonous rodenticide commonly used on illegal marijuana grows. Photo: National Forest Service
But irrespective of who is actually running the drug trafficking organizations behind industrial-sized illegal outdoor marijuana grows, they are all bound by the same organizational precept: maximize profits at whatever the cost. That cost has been California's public lands.
"The biggest issue we're facing right now," said Boehm, "are the types of hazardous chemicals that they're bringing in. They're being applied at levels of concentration that are extremely dangerous to the land. Some of these chemicals in certain concentrations will kill you. We've had to adjust our operations to make sure we're not exposing our people to this stuff."
"Some of these chemicals in certain concentrations will kill you. We've had to adjust our operations to make sure we're not exposing our people to this stuff."
Most of these substances are currently banned in the US. They are brought here, in large part, from Mexico. Their effectiveness in maximizing marijuana plant yields is undeniable, but so too is their effectiveness in poisoning the environment.
It's unclear if field hands who apply these chemicals are aware of the long-term ramifications of their work, according to Lee. But focusing on lowly workers would be missing the point, as illegal grows and drug trafficking organizations exist in the first place because there is a black market for illegal marijuana. The same incentives drove organized crime groups during Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. Those operations were put out of business only after passage of the 21st Amendment, which effectively legalized alcohol consumption across the US.
It's unlikely that statewide legalization of recreational marijuana in California would have the same effect. In fact, the very opposite may be true.
A male fisher found dead from anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning at an illegal marijuana grow site in the Southern Sierra Nevadas. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mourad's recent findings on Pacific fishers revealed some interesting details about the prevalence of illegal marijuana farms in Oregon. By tracking the overall toxicant levels in fisher carcasses submitted for necropsy over several years, Mourad was able to see if legalizing recreational marijuana in Oregon changed these levels. He was, in essence, able to see if illegal grows decreased post-legalization.
It still might be too early for any kind of resounding conclusions in Oregon, which only legalized recreational marijuana last year. According to Mourad, the toxicant levels found in Pacific fishers in Oregon over the long-term hasn't gone down. "What we're finding right now is that it's either increased or stayed at a very elevated level," he said.
However, Mourad's preliminary findings, which will likely be published early next year, challenge the notion that statewide recreational legalization might eliminate illegal weed grows and, by extension, wide-scale environmental damage occurring on public lands in Oregon and beyond.
Experts and officials in Colorado and Washington, on the other hand, have had more time to analyze the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana since both states passed legalization laws in 2012. Yet that hasn't reduced illegal grows on public land in either of those states, or at least "not at this time," according to Boehm.
"It's all about supply and demand," Boehm said. "There's always a black market for things. I think it's always going to be there unless you can make it completely unprofitable to grow."
Watch Motherboard's 2013 doc on US cannabis legalization and the Silicon Valley of Weed.
After recreational cannabis legalization in Colorado kicked in, many individuals and organizations moved to that state to grow weed under less stringent laws. Indeed, most of the legal weed grown in-state does stay in Colorado. Something similar can also be said for the illegal bud grown in-state, according to Boehm: Many of the big illegal grows run by drug trafficking organizations do move some of their unregulated, pesticide-laden product out of state rather of selling to Colorado dispensaries. But a lot of it stays in Colorado, where it trickles into the above-board supply.
"Colorado and Washington State have legitimated the market but not the production," said Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez, a research professor at the National Security Affairs Department of the Naval Postgraduate School. "The law didn't have enough prohibitions for the production of it. It is still very foggy about where it comes from."
This is a critical lesson for California, one that hasn't gone unnoticed by people like Boehm.
"If the market increases—and I am sure it will, if it's legalized—there'll probably be more people using, which will require more marijuana," Boehm said. "Until the legal capacity gets to where it needs to be, we'll see an increase [of illegal grows] on public lands. I feel pretty confident saying that. Historically that's what's happened, so why would it be any different?"
Unless some form of rigorous and uniform statewide regulation is tucked into whatever legislation accompanies recreational legalization in California—something that has proven difficult in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington—neither the amount of illegal grows nor the accompanying environmental damage will abate. And when public lands in California offer a cheaper alternative than private land and come with the benefit of minimal visibility, organizations looking to fly under the radar will likely continue to fill this initial supply shortfall, not to mention the invariable shortfall in states where marijuana is still illegal. This has been the trend in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado since legalization.
Unless some form of rigorous and uniform statewide regulation is tucked into whatever legislation accompanies legalization in California neither the amount of illegal grows nor the accompanying environmental damage will abate.
In other words, warding off illegal grows on public land may seem like a Sisyphean task. But interdiction innovations are in the air.
"I would like to see a very radical interdiction system established to preserve our national parks and forests from illegal grows," Rodrigo said.
By "radical interdiction" Rodrigo means small-fry surveillance drones. He believes there are ways to implement a responsible and transparent program to root out illegal grows using unmanned aerial vehicles. It would have to be a joint effort between civil society organizations and the government, he added, a kind of bottom-up approach to policing our public lands that would require the collaboration of institutions like the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the National Park and Forest Services.
Ruling out such hands-on, preemptive initiatives, we are left with post hoc alternatives like cleanups. Assuming Proposition 64 passes, Mourad said he hopes a significant portion of the resulting taxes go toward reclaiming and restoring former illegal grow sites. Only three to four percent of the 1,000 or more sites discovered every year on California's public lands are reclaimed, something generally done on a grant-to-grant basis, according to Mourad.
It remains unclear how California will spend the 
estimated $1 billion in tax proceeds resulting from Proposition 64. Policy makers have earmarked funding for conservation, yet there is little information elucidating how and where this money will be spent.
Legalizing recreational marijuana in California wouldn't necessarily be the magic bullet against large-scale illegal grows and resulting environmental harm. But if it can be assumed that the ship has already sailed in terms of legalization being a states' rights issue, then statewide legalization is arguably the best way forward to curb illegal, toxic grows in California. If the resulting taxes are utilized to restore damaged land and uniform regulatory standards are applied across the state, the transition will be all the smoother.
A helicopter carries out trash found at an illegal marijuana grow on the Tule River Indian Reservation. Growers were diverting water from the Tule River, the tribe's main source of fresh water. Photo: Spc. Brianne Roudebush/California National Guard
It will take time to streamline and perfect legalization, of course. Progress may initially appear piecemeal. But what we can be certain of is this: Asymmetries and legal loopholes will remain in place that will incentivize and encourage illegal grows in the US unless there is blanket federal legalization. This is exactly where a 'yes' vote on Proposition 64 might serve as a Trojan horse.
California will likely continue to push out unrivaled quantities of both legal and illegal marijuana. This has been the case historically and there is little to stop it now. Given the size of its marijuana market—California produces more weed than all of Mexico—a legal recreational cannabis economy in California would be simply too big to ignore at the federal level. It would underscore the "federalist problem" in the US, according to Rodrigo, where states often act in opposition to the federal government mandates.
Understanding this, a 'yes' vote in California could singlehandedly catalyze change around marijuana at the federal level. If not, it would certainly trigger a domino-like effect toward legalization in other states that are on the fence. Where there has only been increasing environmental destruction and political inertia, this would certainly pressure the federal government to rethink its stance on weed.
In the meantime, Mourad is gearing up for yet another cleanup in Lassen National Forest. Whoever was behind this 30,000-plant operation left behind 8,000 pounds of trash and 8,000 pounds of irrigation line over 15 acres of what was previously pristine public land. When Mourad arrived at the site, he found the rotting corpses of two gray foxes and a bear.
"There needs to be some step forward, anything that is better than what we currently have in place," Mourad said. "What we have in place right now is a knotball that no one has untied."
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'My heart was in my stomach': Homeowner learns too late she bought a former grow-op
Claudette Charron is entangled in a lawsuit, trying to learn who knew what and when, after buying house
Rosa Marchitelli · CBC News
October 2, 2017
Claudette Charron bought her fixer-upper bungalow as an investment, but she didn't know there had been a grow-op in the basement. Cleanup costs have totalled $30,000 to date. (Claudette Charron)
Claudette Charron thought she bought her perfect house — a fixer-upper in need of a little TLC, at a good price in a small community — until she discovered there used to be a marijuana grow-op in the basement and the house needed tens of thousands of dollars of work to make it safe to live in.
"It was a foreclosure, so you know it was at a decent price because I couldn't afford very much," says Charron, who is a carpenter.
The real estate listing for the bungalow in Limoges, Ont., said 'with a little bit of love this home can shine bright!' (CBC)
"But it was a nice fixer-upper ... with some work and with my skills, I was going to fix it and resell it in two years. It was an investment."
Charron, her boyfriend and her 16-year-old son moved into their new home in Limoges, Ont., at the end of June 2016, one year after there had been a drug bust at the house.
Claudette Charron's first home inspection reported no signs of the property's history as a grow-op. (CBC)
A day after moving into the community just east of Ottawa, she talked to a neighbour who asked about damage to the basement.
"I said, what do you mean how bad is the basement? She's like 'What? They didn't tell you that there was a big drug bust here and that they took 148 [pot] plants out of the basement,'" Charron says.
"It was disbelief. My heart was in my stomach and I was sick."
Claudette Charron's neighbour, Ethel Manns, is the one who told Charron her newly purchased house had formerly contained a grow-op. (CBC)
Go Public found there is a long list of failed attempts to implement grow-op registries that would publicly identify the locations of drug houses.
Instead, many provinces are left with a mishmash of rules and guidelines around who's responsible for identifying and disclosing former drug houses in real estate transactions.
Experts say the lack of a workable tracking system and clear rules can leave homebuyers facing health risks, diminished home value and huge cleanup costs.
$30,000+ in cleanup costs
The home inspector Charron hired before buying recorded no evidence of a grow-op, even though home inspectors in Ontario are obligated to look for signs.
After learning of the home's history, Charron got another inspection done.
A report from Enviro Pure First Response says there were "telltale signs" of a former grow-op, including marijuana leaf debris under the stairs and evidence of windows in the basement "being taped off with staples still in place and foil tape."
The company also tested for mould and moisture in the air and behind the walls. "The counts in this house were probably in the top five or six per cent of anything that we have encountered for an indoor spore count directly in the vicinity of the grow operation," says Richard Sticklee, who works for Enviro Pure First Response.
He estimated the cost to clean up Charron's home would range from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on what has to be done.
Charron has spent more than $30,000 so far on the house she paid $265,000 for.
Richard Sticklee, a remediation expert who worked on Charron's house, says the first thing he noticed was the mould odour, then he saw live mould growing on the walls. (CBC)
Sticklee says the system should work like this:
  • Police notify the city of the location of a grow-op.
  • The city tags the home.
  • The homeowner takes specific remediation steps.
  • The city oversees the cleanup to ensure it's done safely and properly.
  • The house can be sold, but the seller needs to disclose its history.

Seller denies knowledge of grow-op
In Charron's case, Street Capital Bank of Canada was the seller. It took possession of the house after the people who had the grow-op declared bankruptcy.
Street Capital Bank of Canada (Toronto office pictured) sold the house to Claudette Charron in June 2016. She has filed a lawsuit against the company. (CBC)
Charron is now suing Street Capital, its realtor, and the original home inspector she used.
In its statement of defence, Street Capital "denies having knowledge that the property was used as a grow-op" and denies it "was aware and/or failed to disclose any latent defects."
The mortgage company did not answer Go Public's questions, but in an email from its lawyer, David Ward, it says circumstances like this are rare and "we always work towards resolving issues amicably which we are working on doing in this case as well."
The case is now heading toward mediation and Street Capital says it's "hopeful that all matters can be fairly resolved."
Tracking systems failing
Go Public found tracking systems that should alert potential buyers of a home's drug history are either failing or nonexistent.
Ottawa police do list dismantled illegal grow-ops online, but only five locations have been listed over the past five years.
In Ontario, there is a provincial guideline that says police should notify municipalities, in writing, of grow-ops so the municipality can oversee the remediation and ensure it's done safely and properly.  That didn't happen in Charron's case.
On a national scale, the RCMP tried to launch a website in 2010 that was supposed to list addresses of homes across Canada where marijuana grow operations and illegal drug labs were found and dismantled. That too went bust.
Go Public found only Quebec requires sellers to disclose a home's history as a former drug house.
In most provinces, sellers don't have to mention a marijuana grow-op specifically, as long as it didn't do damage. If it did, it is considered a material latent defect, which does have to be disclosed.
Buyer beware
Barry Lebow has been a real estate broker and agent and now works as an adviser for brokerages and the public.
Real estate expert Barry Lebow advises prospective home owners to talk to neighbours before buying. (CBC)
"I think that a registry makes sense. I really do. I think that withholding information from the public isn't a good thing and it would make it so much easier," he says.
Lebow notes that realtors in a lot of provinces are responsible for making their "best efforts" to find out the history of a house.
He says marijuana grow-ops are more common than most people realize, saying buyers need to use different search engines to look up the address and owner's names of a property they are interested in buying and searching news archives for reports on grow-ops.
He also suggests talking to neighbours. Go Public canvassed Charron's neighbourhood after she contacted us, asking if anyone, real estate agents or the mortgage company, had come by to ask about the home's history before or after the sale.
"Nobody. The only person that came over was the new owner," says Ethel Manns, the neighbour who told Charron about the drug history of her new home.
"I'd be really upset," she says. "It's somebody's fault. It had to be reported. You can't have a grow-op and not tell anybody."
With files from Rachel Ward
Rosa Marchitelli
@cbcRosa
Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.
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and

Does Marijuana Have Health Benefits?

05 September 2012
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