It’s an unremarkable 1970s-era home on a tidy property – it wouldn’t rate a second glance for somebody passing by.
Except, as neighbours noticed, people came and went at odd hours, nobody seemed to live there and it occasionally stank up the neighbourhood with the sticky-sweet smell of marijuana.
When the Saanich police tactical unit came knocking this morning with a battering ram, it was only a matter of time.
What the grow-op lacked in subtlety, it made up for in volume. After a two month investigation, Saanich police executed a search warrant on 766 Genevieve Road, at the corner of Lark Road, and found an empty home, except for about 700 pot plants spread between three rooms.
Officers in white hazmat suits and purple-capped respirators hauled out loads of marijuana leaves in conspicuous “Guatemalan coffee” canvas sacks. Sgt. Dean Jantzen remarked that big canvas sacks are hard to come by, and are donated by local fish and chips shops. Unlike plastic bags, canvas prevents quick rot from setting in.
Nobody was home at the time of the 9:25 a.m. raid and police haven’t made any arrests related to the grow-op. One neighbour said an older man would occasionally show up to do yard work and to keep the exterior tidy. A younger man with a truck and his face obscured by a hoodie usually showed up at night and left in the morning.
Jantzen said the house has an absentee owner and had been rented. People running the grow-op weren’t stealing electricity and paid their hydro bills, he said.
“This is a sophisticated commercial operation,” Jantzen told the media. “I’m told they are well tended plants. Someone cared for them on a daily basis.”
As officers removed plants, the pungent smell floated over Genevieve Road.
“It was painfully obvious nobody lived there. Every two months there was an overwhelming smell,” said neighbour Mike Cox. “I’ve got kids, there’s an elementary nearby, it’s a tight neighbourhood. I’m surprised they picked this house.”
Kids would walk by from nearby Rogers elementary school every weekday, he noted, and even his 13-year-old son had an idea what was happening at the neighbour’s house.
“From what I learned every once in a while there would be a venting process,” he said. “In the summer (there were days) we couldn’t open our windows … it was brutal.”
Cox admitted he was nervous about telling police about the suspected grow-op, out of fear of angering a criminal gang. “I was hesitant to get involved. It could have been a teenager being stupid, or an organized level of crime I would not want to be involved with.”
In this case, Jantzen said an off-duty officer from a neighbouring agency happened to smell the poorly concealed but sizable grow-op, and helped initiate the investigation.
Investigators are seeking the renters and plan to investigate the level of culpability of the owner to potentially seize the house. In any case, Jantzen said the home will need extensive cleaning and repairs to make it habitable.
“The level of protection (officers are wearing) goes to show these grow-ops are serious threats to people who occupy these homes,” Jantzen said. “This house will need remediation. The basement is a mouldy, damp, toxic environment.”
Jantzen also reiterated that despite its widespread use and general acceptance, this kind of indoor grown marijuana can be laced with insecticides and other dangerous chemicals.
“The amount of chemicals we find with these operations is dramatic. Gallons and gallons of caustic chemicals,” he said, speaking about grow-ops in general. “(Marijuana) might be natural when grown outdoors. These are indoors and (growers) worry about pests. We’ve seen where they spray Raid (insecticide) on plants.”