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Celli
14-01-04, 04:12
BARRIE, Ontario (Jan. 13) - A marijuana "factory'' concealed within a sprawling old brewery just steps from one of Ontario's busiest highways is proof Canada's pot problem has reached "epidemic proportions,'' police said Monday.

The former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ontario, plainly visible from Highway 400, one of the province's busiest commuter routes, was raided on the weekend by 100 police officers acting on a tip.

Inside, police found marijuana with what they said had an estimated street value of $30 million, along with a grow operation of staggering proportions - the largest and most sophisticated in modern Canadian history. Police said the factory-like operation used miles of irrigation piping and 1,000 hydroponic lights to nurture plants in an area the size of a football field.

"This is not a ma-and-pa operation,'' said Barrie police Chief Wayne Frechette.

Across the complex, police found more than 25,000 pot plants growing everywhere - even inside the cavernous indoor vats once used to brew beer.

Molson closed the brewery in 2000 and sold it to a company that leases space to about half a dozen businesses. The other companies included trucking companies and a bottling company, police said.

Nine men had been arrested in connection with the operation.

Canada has more lenient marijuna criminal penalties than the United States, although large-scale growing operations like the Barrie one are still very much against the law.

U.S. drug enforcement officials have expressed concern about marijuana imports from British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province. Law enforcment says it's an industry worth $6 billion annually. But Ontario has begun to catch up. In recent years, according to a report called Green Tide, prepared for Ontario police chiefs, marijuana cultivation in the province had risen 250 percent between 2000 and 2002.