It was no surprise to residents of a quiet Saanich street when police kicked in the door of a bungalow Friday morning and started removing sacks of healthy-looking marijuana plants.
The house at the top of Genevieve Road, with a well-groomed lawn and vines beside the front door, had been the subject of intense speculation since it was sold almost two years ago.
“There were days in summer when you couldn’t even open the windows because of the smell. It was brutal,” said next-door neighbour Mike Cox.
“No one lives there, but they would come and go, and when the doors opened, the smell was ridiculous — it was 100 per cent marijuana.”
Tammy Cunningham’s family attempted to talk to the man who tended the garden, but he did not speak English, she said. “This is really upsetting — it’s a beautiful neighbourhood,” she said.
Several residents said they were worried about calling police for fear of retaliation, but the smell was eventually identified by an off-duty police officer and an investigation began, said Saanich Police Sgt. Dean Jantzen.
Officers found 600 to 700 marijuana plants in varying stages of maturity in a “sophisticated commercial operation,” said Jantzen.
Charges are being prepared, but no one has been arrested and it’s believed that a renter, not the owner, is responsible for the grow-op, he said.
It’s possible the house could be seized under the province’s civil forfeiture program, he said, adding much depends on whether the owner has been negligent. “It’s too early to say, but [civil forfeiture] is always on the table.”
Although no one was living in the house, the plants — which were being grown in dirt, not hydroponically — appear to have had daily attention, he said. “These are well-tended plants, so someone was very actively involved.”
The house has not fared so well. The plants were grown in a bedroom and two basement rooms, which police say are now damp and mouldy, with a wet, toxic environment, which means the home will need significant remediation.
The owner will also have to declare that it has been used as a grow-op, which will affect resale value, Jantzen said.
Two police officers in full protective gear, including breathing apparatus, dismantled the grow-op, which shows how serious the contamination can be, said Jantzen, as the strong smell of marijuana wafted down the street.
Caustic chemicals used to kill pests or prevent plant diseases are often found in grow-ops, although users tend to think of marijuana as all-natural, he said. “Sadly, the amount of chemicals we find in these things is dramatic.”
The street value of the seized plants will not be estimated until the quality is assessed, Jantzen said.
The plants will be destroyed. “What a waste,” said one neighbour sadly. “I thought I could use them on my compost.”
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