A Look Inside Illegal Canadian Weed Grow Houses from the 1990s 

In the mid-90s, photographer Victor John Penner did some pro-bono work for Jim Skipp, his graphic designer friend in Vancouver, British Columbia that involved shooting a police chopper and some officers. A few years later one of those cops asked him to photograph some grow houses as they were being busted so they could submit pics for some sort of police award. For Victor it sounded like an awesome opportunity to gain a veritable backstage pass to what was then a mostly unexplored and shady underground scene. The project became the series Not Safe to Occupy, named after the warning the cops would tack to the door of grow houses after every bust. We recently asked Victor about his haunting, candid shots.

VICE: Can you give us some context on what things were like in Vancouver back when you shot these?
Victor John Penner: Back then, the citizens of Vancouver were blissfully ignorant about what was going on in every neighborhood as far as grow houses went, but in general, pot was such a part of the fabric of the city that they stopped paying attention to its casual use.

At the time that I shot [these photos], there was definitely organized crime running the show. But they were much more low profile than the explosion of very public gang violence that happened here in 2009, when there were 20 killed and 40 wounded in the first three months of the year while the street price of BC Bud hit $3,000 and up per pound.

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Vancouver: A sartorial examination of the third worst dressed city in the world. 

Vancouver: A sartorial examination of the third worst dressed city in the world.