CHILLIWACK, B.C. - Mounties have wiped out a field of opium poppies in B.C.'s 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 flower pods were meant to make the drug doda that 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.
Because it's a crop more well known to Afghanistan than Canada, Cpl. Lea-Anne Dunlop said RCMP investigators knew very little about opium poppies and had to do some research just to obtain a search 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. Some of the plants were already in flower and the officers had to pick those by hand.
"So we really didn't want something that doesn't grow here naturally spreading across other fields in the area and all of the 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. Police will also be watching the field next spring to make sure the flowers don't come back.
Dunlop said it's obvious that with 60,000 plants, there must be a market for the drug and that has forced police to learn more about doda.
"The biggest demand for doda is within the South Asian community, sometimes (it's) 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.
Dunlop said the opium poppies aren't the same as the flowers someone might grow in their front yard.
The opium plant is used to make legal and illegal drugs including the pain killers morphine and codeine and street drugs such as doda and heroin.
Doda is made by grinding down the husks of the poppy into a powder. The powder is then used in tea or water and is said to produce a quick high and then a sense of calm.
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."
Bains said there is added concern if doda is being cultivated in B.C. and the lengths people will go to distribute the illegal drug.
"I'm really concerned that it could infiltrate our youth in high schools, and once they're on it, I think it will be a serious problem."
Dunlop agreed that there is some unease around the bust.
"We hope this isn't a sign of things to come," she said. "We really hope that this particular grow op, and being able to take it down, is going to have a substantial impact."
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.
Staff Sgt. Dave Goddard, of the RCMP's greater Vancouver drug section, said it was a significant case.
"One of which we'll be looking at right across Canada," he said in a news release. "The fact of the matter is I've never seen anything as large as this type of poppy production in B.C."