SEPTEMBER 30: Canada's marijuana dealers are converting suburban homes and abandoned warehouses into pot farms, creating a C$10 billion ($8.5 billion) market that's three times the size of the nation's biggest legal crop, wheat.
Cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto may each have as many as 20,000 pot factories, said Rich Baylin, former national coordinator for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The “grow-op” business has created a rift with the US, where police say much of the weed is sold. Efforts by Prime Minister Paul Martin to decriminalize marijuana are a bigger threat to US relations than the softwood-lumber dispute, according to a Compas Research poll of 146 Canadian chief executives in March.
“The US is taking the border a lot more seriously than in the past,” said Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy. The increase in Canadian marijuana production risks harming all trade between the two countries, he said.
Almost half of all adult Canadians smoked pot at least once in their life, according to a survey last year by Health Canada.
The same proportion support decriminalization of possession, compared with a third of their US counterparts, a November Ipsos-Reid poll found.
Pot stories have been a staple of newspapers such as the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun, covering drug busts and the fight by legalization activist Marc Emery to avoid extradition to the US He faces life in prison if convicted after a July arrest for selling marijuana seeds.
Canada's annual pot harvest is as much as 5.3 million pounds, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.