Aussie Duck´s foot
A few years ago in 1999 Cannabis Culture announced a different new strain of marijuana (CC#19, Grow Down Under), its very different looks and growth patter than what we are used, or we know as normal cannabis.
This new strain by Mr Ayers, as an outdoor grower in Australia. Mr Ayers said CC#19 need more potency, but the strain was extraordinarily hardy and frost-resistant, and unrecognizable as cannabis.
The structure is totally different than regular cannabis we knwo. There are no fan leaves, all leaves are quite small with an irregular distribution of stamens. The plant grows more like a shrub, without typical candelabra aspect of normal cannabis.
They call this new variety Australian Bastard Cannabis (ABC), and we gave away many seeds to interested breeders, as well as giving away a large batch of ABC x Flo.
They received feedback from readers who said to have this strain before. One Australian grower said that the ABC was kwon as Mutant, and that some thought it might be a “colchicine polyploidy experiment gone wrong”.
One local cultivator named “Volcano” grew up some of our last collection of ABC x Flo seeds. He germinated the seeds indoor in BC during March and the seeds had germinated in seven to ten days.
ABC strain first set of leaves identical to regular cannabis, before the first true leaves appeared that differences became evident.
“Those leaves came out completely unlike the serrated leaf ”said Volcano. “In fact, there are no serrated edges on these leaves, they darker green and shiny, looking-they usually got no larger than two inches.”
“The males flowered early, some before the end of July” said Volcano. “The females were compact with short internodes. They were heavily branched with many leaves. The buds formed differently on every plant, but they were all very resinous with cannabis-like buds. But anyway, the developed plant does not look like cannabis”.
The weed were reach an average height of about three feet and harvested in November, trimmed and hung to dry. The plants approximated yield of three dry ounces per plant.
The weed smoked very clean, with a light, spicy flavor.
Definitely ABC can become the ultimate camouflage strain of millennium.
The green house next door
Hiding in plain sight in homes all across Australia, international crime syndicates are growing millions of dollars worth of cannabis. Here’s how they do it.
You have almost certainly seen a cannabis grow house — you just don’t know it.
They’re dotted throughout our suburbs, as discreet from the outside as they are lucrative within.
Inside this ordinary brick veneer home, on an ordinary western Sydney street, sits hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cannabis.
Police know this and they’re about to take down the front door.
Video 0:17 Police raid a property in south Sydney
The smell hits them first. Then, an otherworldly glow.
Amid the mess of cables, blacked-out windows and high-intensity lighting, police find four converted rooms filled with 93 cannabis plants at various stages of growth, worth about $250,000.
No-one is at home.
It’s impossible to know just how many hydroponic cannabis grow houses there are in Australia.
“The ceiling is … well, we don’t know what we don’t know,” NSW drug and firearm squad commander Peter McErlain said.
“The scale of what we’re finding in cannabis grow houses across NSW and potentially across Australia is alarming.”
Photo Police bag up thousands of dollars of cannabis after a raid in Sydney.
What is clear, according to senior police in multiple states, is the majority of cannabis sold in Australia is grown this way.
Given 2.1 million Australians reported using cannabis in the past 12 months, that’s a lot of houses.
Senior police believe the syndicates controlling Australia’s multi-billion-dollar cannabis black market are far more powerful than they had previously suspected.
The majority of these grow houses are operated by Vietnamese organised crime.
Many syndicates operate across multiple states with several dozen houses — described as a “scattergun” model by Superintendent McErlain, designed so the detection of one house does not cripple the business.
Photo Police set about bagging up dozens of cannabis plants.
Some syndicate heads currently under police investigation have tens of millions of dollars in unexplained wealth, the ABC has been told.
Since 2011, the NSW Strike Force Zambesi has raided more than 570 grow houses in south-western Sydney, finding about $205 million worth of cannabis — a staggering representation of the scale of the problem, in just a small pocket of the suburbs.
“It’s just enormous, it’s a huge problem,” the strike force’s commander, Gus Viera, said.
“We have been raiding all these houses and I’m not sure we’re even making a dent.”
Photo Gus Viera isn’t convinced NSW police are making a dent in grow house syndicates.
In 2017, Victoria Police seized almost 33,000 plants, weighing more than 14 tonnes, from about 160 grow houses.
But they suspect some Victorian-based syndicates have shifted their focus interstate.
The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission reports that while most hydroponically grown cannabis in their state is from Victoria and South Australia, an increase in Vietnamese organised crime-linked grow houses is being detected.
In December, police made one of the largest hydroponic cannabis seizures in Queensland’s history — a $60 million bust linked to a Vietnamese organised crime syndicate.
Western Australia and South Australia are also understood to have recorded increases in grow houses linked to these syndicates.
Video 0:21 Inside a suburban grow house
The properties used for cannabis cultivation are either leased or bought and can be converted into a grow house within a day.
Every room itself becomes a mini grow house, with its own lighting, watering and nutrient system, and plants at different stages of growth installed in separate spaces. In some houses, even the linen press is used for seedlings.
An average house can make $250,000 in three months. The first crop typically meets the set-up costs. Everything after three months is profit.
Police say the model used to establish the houses is incredibly regimented. Most syndicates use identical equipment for each house — the same light shrouds, electrical transformers, light globes and even the same type of mulch: coconut husk.
The windows are covered to prevent the light being seen from outside, but sometimes lights are installed between the windowsill and the blind and turned on at night to give the impression someone is home.
Ventilation systems are installed to suck out the pungent aroma of cannabis. It means the fans — commonly known as whirlybirds — mounted on the roof of a grow house often spin faster than those on neighbouring properties.
Each house drains millions of dollars worth of electricity from the power grid.
Devices are used to divert power from the mains without the usage being tracked to the grow house.
A syndicate operating an average-sized grow house raided by police in 2015 was found to have stolen almost $200 worth of power a day.
Photo Forensic officers dust electrical equipment for prints after a police raid on a crop house.
People have been electrocuted setting up a grow house.
At some houses, the wiring is so dangerous police have been able to feel the heat from electricity pulsing through the floor.
Unpredictable electrical set-ups aren’t the only danger — some houses are laced with booby traps like razor wire, or door knobs that will electrocute whoever touches them.
The damage caused to a property that is transformed into a grow house is immense — holes in the walls and the floor, water stains throughout the house and electrical cabling ruined.
After a police raid, the detritus of a destroyed cannabis crop can be found in just about every room.
Stefan Gorgievski privately rented his two properties in Wheatsheaf, in central Victoria, to a man he thought was “respectable”.
His properties were used to grow a $2 million haul of more than 500 cannabis plants, uncovered by police in 2014.
Photo Stefan Gorgievski is still repairing his home after it was converted into a crop house.
Fixing the damage has cost Mr Gorgievski thousands of dollars.
Years later, he’s still picking up the pieces.
“This is the part when your stomach drops,” he said, while looking at photos of police hauling cannabis from his property.
“When you see your own house and all your own work and sweat that you put into it … it’s just heartbreaking.”
There were just two men arrested when Mr Gorgievski’s properties were raided: the crop-sitters.
Photo The view over Hai Phong and the surrounding rice paddy fields.
This is Hai Phong. It’s about 100 kilometres east of Hanoi in Vietnam.
Hundreds of young Vietnamese men and women travel from here to Australia to work as crop-sitters.
Just outside of the main town, past rice paddies and failed residential developments, you’ll find the family home of Pham Minh Duc.
The village is a long way from the brown-brick Brunswick factory in Melbourne’s north where Duc was arrested, only two years ago, surrounded by 433 cannabis plants.
Duc was a crop-sitter — employed to stay in the grow house, turn on the lights and complete a short checklist of daily tasks.
He’s far from the only young man from Hai Phong to end up in that line of work.
That’s because, in just a matter of weeks, crop-sitters can make more than 10 times the average Vietnamese wage.
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The common story told by crop-sitters is that they were recruited after they arrived from Vietnam.
Duc insists this is true in his case.
“When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know much about that kind of work. I worked normal jobs to make ends meet and did not engage in any illegal activity,” said Duc, through a translator.
“But after a while I was seduced into that path.”
The crop-sitters are typically the only person charged once that property is raided by police.
Photo The crop-sitter’s bed in the Brunswick warehouse grow house where Duc worked.
Often they arrive on student or tourist visas, which have long since lapsed by the time they are caught.
They plead guilty, meaning the stories they tell police, including details about their immigration, student and work histories, are taken at face value.
Many of the crop-sitters charged in Australia explain in detail the desperate situations that led to their offending.
In several cases uncovered by the ABC — including two young men on student visas who were sentenced last month for crop-sitting — a toxic chemical spill off the Vietnamese coast was described as the catalyst for their offending.
The chemical spill in 2016 devastated the local fishing industry and some Vietnamese people in Australia said it forced them into working as crop-sitters to support their families.
Sitters have told police they were recruited through newspaper advertisements, or from farms where they had been working illegally.
Duc spent almost a year in prison and then immigration detention after his arrest. The experience was nothing compared to having to tell his family about what he’d done.
Photo Pham Minh Duc worked as a crop-sitter in Melbourne.
“When it happened, at first, I kept it hidden from my family, I didn’t know how my parents would react,” he said.
“When my parents found out, they were deeply upset. In fact, I was very upset.
“From the day that I returned until now, my spirit was still broken, because what happened was a big shock to me.”
Hoang Vu Duy, 28, also travelled to Australia from Hai Phong and began crop-sitting.
He made $20,000-$30,000 in six months crop-sitting a house in Melbourne’s outer north, but like Duc, he doesn’t think it was ever worth it.
Photo Hoang Vu Duy worked as a crop-sitter before he was found out by police and deported back to Vietnam.
It is not just the shame of his family that Duy had to live with. After he was found at a grow house by Victoria Police, Duy was deported and separated from his wife in Australia.
His first child, Alan, was born in Melbourne in April.
“Now when I think about the past, it’s not worth to do it,” he said.
“My whole life completely changed.”
Like Duc, Duy said he was recruited in Australia when he was approached after his student visa had expired.
He also said he knows nothing about the syndicate that controlled the house.
Duy was arrested in 2014 and deported the following year.
He wants to forget the circumstances behind his offending.
“When I was inside the house I just smell it, smell it. And I can see a lot of trees. And I don’t know how many, until I get caught by police and they say you have … 200 trees.”
Photo An eerie glow from the lighting hangs over the cannabis plants.
Despite Duc and Duy’s experiences, there are seemingly no shortage of Vietnamese men and women keen to work as crop-sitters in Australia.
This year alone in the Victorian County Court, 14 crop-sitters who arrived on student or tourist visas have been sentenced — an average of one a fortnight.
In sentencing one crop-sitter in May, Judge John Smallwood neatly encapsulated their value to the syndicates who employ them.
“It is clear to all of us involved in the criminal law that the real architects of these crops get people such as yourself with no prior convictions — illegal immigrants — and no way really of being traced within this country, on the understanding that if apprehended you will not give anybody up and you will just simply do a bit of jail and get deported,” he said.
Photo Police suspect money from Vietnamese crime syndicates has been laundered through the tables at Crown Casino.
Nguyen Son Nam considered himself a “star gambler”.
He probably thought nothing of betting $918,000 in an hour and 12 minutes at Crown Casino.
Wagering $819,000 over a slightly longer period that same day wasn’t particularly unusual either.
As for the $511,000 he gambled in 13 minutes, also on June 14, 2013? Money well spent.
Son was laundering money for a cannabis grow house syndicate based in Melbourne’s west.
He knew he would lose some of the syndicate profits, but what was left on the table could be cashed out as seemingly legitimate takings.
Last August, Victoria Police successfully restrained property linked to the group.
The case gives a rare window into the heft of the syndicates that control the cannabis grow house industry, the way they launder millions of dollars and the ties back to Vietnam.
Only, the Son syndicate isn’t even considered particularly big-time. The family-based group had about $4 million worth of property seized, including a service station and four houses.
Other ongoing police investigations are currently looking into kingpins with tens of millions of dollars in unexplained wealth.
In 2016-17, Victoria Police seized almost $17 million in property linked to grow house syndicates — a third of all the property seized in drug-related investigations.
But the prosecution of people other than crop-sitters, as occurred with the Son syndicate, remains rare.
It took significant input from federal authorities — including the then-Australian Crime Commission and Austrac — something state police believe is not as forthcoming when it comes to cannabis as it is when investigating syndicates linked to other illicit substances.
The commission monitored over 11,550 phone conversations between Son and his associates, and Austrac found that more than $130,000 had been sent to Vietnam.
In the calls, Son tells crop-sitters when to water the plants, when to provide them with nutrients and chemicals, how to identify infestation or bugs on the plants and how to dry the cannabis leaves during harvest.
It’s an example that his syndicate was far from sophisticated: he was not only expected to launder millions of dollars, but to organise crop-sitters.
The properties seized by police were in the name of his mother — herself convicted of being a crop-sitter in 2008 — and his sister; not a wise move if you’re hoping to insulate yourself from unexplained wealth proceedings in court.
Photo Most grow house syndicates operate in a three-tier structure.
Superintendent McErlain said most syndicates have a three-tier model — the masterminds, the facilitators and the crop-sitters.
As part of an increased focus on facilitators in Victoria, police charged and seized the assets of an electrician, bank staff and a loan broker.
But it appears the Son syndicate skipped much of that middle tier.
The more sophisticated syndicates, Superintendent McErlain said, use cash businesses such as nail salons and restaurants to launder their money, rather than using property and the casino, which are more easily traced.
“Some of that cash is injected into cash-only businesses, which is an attempt to hide the black economy in cannabis.
“Some of that cash obviously goes to the middle section of the organisation, the logistic side and the crop-sitters who mind the grow houses.
“Some of that cash goes offshore, but I think there’s a bit of an intelligence gap about [where] the majority of it goes.”
Photo Money from Vietnamese grow house syndicates is sometimes laundered through nail salons.
Police suspect most of this cash stays in Australia and is reinvested in other grow houses, importations of other drugs, such as ice, ecstasy and cocaine, and into property and businesses.
Some cannabis cash — as was revealed in the Son case — goes to Vietnam, where many of the syndicates still have relatives.
But there is another country where cash from Australia’s cannabis grow house syndicates flows: Canada.
British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, is the home of the cannabis grow house.
It’s there where Vietnamese organised crime syndicates perfected the model that would be exported across Canada, the US, Europe and Australia.
The US Drug Enforcement Authority and Royal Canadian Mounted Police first became concerned about the syndicates in the late 1990s.
Then, in 2005, the Australian Crime Commission reported that Vietnamese-Australians had travelled to Canada to learn about grow house methods.
Around the same time, Australian police were finding a new type of cannabis on the street — a strain known as BC Bud, which hailed from British Columbia.
Grow houses were first detected in South Australia, but exploded in New South Wales and Victoria around 2002 to 2006.
Photo Syndicates are unperturbed by losing a grow house or two due to police raids.
Detective Inspector Viera believes there are still syndicate members travelling to Canada to hone their skills.
“These people actually go to Canada and they’re trained in this art,” he said.
“Then it’s brought here.”
It’s not just information that’s exchanged — in the course of this investigation, the ABC has learned of five recent cases of Vietnamese organised crime syndicates attempting to import tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA from Canada to Australia in foot spas.
In some cases, it appeared the syndicates used nail salons — the same salons which launder cash from grow houses — to order the spas, to give the impression they were a legitimate commercial importation.
It’s another example of police peeling back one layer of a grow house syndicate, yet still barely getting closer to the centre.
One former senior Victorian police officer, who did not want to be named, told the ABC the syndicates have become gargantuan as a direct result of the force’s fluctuating interest in investigating them over the past decade.
He said other drug syndicates involved in heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine importation were targeted by police, motivated by the priorities of state governments who wanted results on “harder” drugs.
The cannabis kingpins stayed in the shadows.
“It’s like all drugs — if you tackle it, if you put resources into it, it will start to come out,” he said.
“But if you don’t, it stays hidden.”
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Photos/video: Jack Fisher, Dave Maguire, Michael Barnett, Richard Hoskins