What REALTORS® need to know about synthetic drug labs

Many REALTORS® can share a horror story about a property they were listing, showing or selling that moonlighted in the not-so-distant past as a marihuana grow operation (MGO). Perhaps it was the planting pot stains on the carpet, the mould on the walls and ceiling, or a chance run in with the neighbours that gave it away. While the dangers of MGOs cannot be discounted, it is important REALTORS® also be aware of another public health, safety and law enforcement concern that impacts the resale markets in Canada – synthetic drug laboratories.

Although fewer in number, synthetic drug labs present a dangerous situation for REALTORS®, potential home buyers and the communities in which they reside. Law enforcement is fighting an uphill battle to combat the proliferation of synthetic drug laboratories in recent years.

Synthetic drug production is big business. The illicit synthetic drug trade is constantly evolving and it takes a concentrated effort, by all interested parties, to stay abreast of the trends. Today, Canada has the dubious distinction of being an international source of supply for synthetic drugs, with organized crime groups playing a leading role in this expanding trade.  These criminal enterprises import unregulated new psychoactive substances (NPS) so that they can circumnavigate legislation in order to perpetuate their illicit trade.

The most commonly manufactured drugs are methamphetamine or “meth” and MDMA (also known as ecstasy, E or X) where the lab operations themselves will wreak havoc on a residential home. For instance, chemicals permeate the walls, carpets, plaster, and wood; exposure can cause serious medical issues or even death; dumping of liquid and sludge waste products down drains contaminate sewer or septic systems, surrounding soil and neighbouring properties; and, flammable liquids and solids used in the cooking process are extremely combustible and can lead to explosions.

REALTORS® can help law enforcement efforts by understanding how to identify active and former synthetic drug labs, and where to report suspicious activity. 

Some signs that a property may be a synthetic drug lab include:

  • Windows covered, blacked out, or curtains always drawn.
  • Unfriendly inhabitants, who appear secretive about their activities, display paranoid or odd behaviour (e.g. watching cars suspiciously as they drive by).
  • Premises have been outfitted with expensive security devices. “Beware of Dog” or “Guard Dog on Duty” signs used to deter trespassing, protect against theft, and avoid detection.
  • Chemical odours such as solvents, acids, cat urine, licorice or skunk.
  • Garbage containing glassware, large quantities of chemical containers, bottles, metal drums, pots, wiring, soil or PVC piping for unexplained reasons.
  • Burn pits, stained soil or dead vegetation indicating dumped chemicals or waste.

REALTORS® should contact their local police service or their local Crime Stoppers immediately if they suspect they have come across a synthetic drug lab and be prepared to provide a description of the house and the reasons they believe it is the site of a synthetic drug lab.

Be safe. REALTORS® should not put themselves into any compromising position while obtaining information about synthetic drug labs or other criminal activity.

For more information on synthetic drug labs or marihuana grow operations, we are pleased to have partnered with CREA on the publication Marihuana Grow Operations and Synthetic Drug Labs: What REALTORS® Need to Know.

We are also coming up on the second anniversary on the launch of the RCMP’s Marihuana Grow Initiative (MGI). The MGI is the RCMPs national response to combating the prevalence of marihuana production in Canada being run and exploited by organized crime groups. More information is available on our website along with our Annual Report 2012.

As part of the evolution of the MGI, law enforcement has joined forces with a variety of industry sectors and governmental entities – including CREA – to form the National Council Against Marihuana Grow Operations and Clandestine Laboratories. CREA’s own Vice-President and REALTOR® from Smiths Falls, Ontario, Pauline Aunger, is currently serving as one of the Council’s co-chairs. The Council is dedicated to mitigating the social ills of synthetic drug labs. The press release from the Council’s inaugural meeting is available on the RCMP’s website.

As an RCMP National Coordinator for Drug Programs, Ken Cornell orchestrates a number of important ventures such as the Synthetic Drug and Marihuana Grow Initiatives, recently launched by the RCMP. Both initiatives recognize the necessity of working more closely with other government agencies but also private organizations, such as CREA, to combat illicit drug production. Ken celebrates 20 years of service with the RCMP this year and when he is not battling crime and or evil, you can find Ken chipping away at the honey-do list, and or on the Rideau River fishing with his two kids.


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