Mounties have wiped out a field of opium poppies in the Fraser Valley in a first-of-its kind drug bust that’s also revealed a much larger problem within the South Asian community.
Police believe the flowers were meant to make the drug doda, which gives its users an opium-like high and is said to be commonly used by taxi and truck drivers.
Chilliwack RCMP say the illegal crop on almost three hectares was the largest opium poppy field ever found in Canada and the 60,000 mature plants were almost ready to harvest.
Cpl. Lea-Anne Dunlop said investigators acted on a tip and went out to the field, but they didn’t know much about opium poppies and had to do their research just to obtain a warrant.
Their next concern was to act quickly, she said.
“We came to learn that these actual pods full of seeds, once they mature, they can burst and the seeds can spread,” Dunlop said in an interview Thursday.
“So we really didn’t want something that doesn’t grow here naturally spreading across other fields in the area and all of a sudden we’ve got a bigger problem.”
After gathering their evidence, RCMP hired a nearby farmer in the community, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, to plow the crop under.
Dunlop said it’s obvious that with 60,000 plants, there must be a market for the drug and they’ve been forced to learn more about doda.
“The biggest demand for doda is within the South Asian community, sometimes used within the trucking community or cab drivers. I’m not sure exactly, but the indication is that it may provide some alertness or focus, that sort of thing.”
She said it makes her uncomfortable to know that a truck may be rolling down the highway driven by somebody with opium in their system.
Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains has been aware of the problem with doda for a few months, saying some of the elders in his riding came to him to complain that the drug was being sold openly in local stores.
“Anyone could walk into any of these stores, dozens of them in Surrey alone, where you could buy doda right over the counter by paying $10, $20. You take it and you drive taxis, big trucks or go on a construction site or on a roof top.”
He complained to RCMP, who he said didn’t have a clue the illegal drug was being sold over the counter.
Bains said doda is slightly more difficult to get now that police have started cracking down, but it’s still available and still cheap.
“It’s considered to be a poor man’s drug, poor man’s opium,” he said. “It is very, very highly addictive and once you’re on it, you’re on it.”
A 31-year-old Abbotsford man and a 24-year-old Mission resident were arrested in connection to the grow operation and are due to appear in a court in mid-December.
Police say the owner of the field had leased the land to others and was not involved in the scheme.