GLOBAL MARCH SUPPORTS EFFORT TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA
by Amy Steele
05 May 2005
Marijuana has been garnering a lot of negative media attention in Calgary
recently due to the burgeoning numbers of grow-ops police are busting and
concern over organized crime involvement in the industry.
City of Calgary aldermen and the police have been speaking out about
potential safety issues related to grow-ops, including black mould and fire
hazards due to growers illegally tapping into power lines. There's now a
steering committee, comprised of various City of Calgary organizations,
devoted to trying to crack down on the grow-ops that are popping up all
over the city.
But a group of Calgary pot users will be trying to send out a different
message on May 7. They'll be participating in Global Marijuana March, a
worldwide protest to legalize pot, which first began in New York City in
1996 and has since spread to 37 countries and 181 cities.
Calgary organizer Matthew Brown says demonizing pot doesn't make sense, and
he argues legalization would solve many of the problems that city
politicians and police are concerned about.
"Full legalization is the way to go," says Brown. "Prohibition has never
worked in the past and I don't see why it would now."
He points out that alcohol prohibition was a dismal failure, ending up
being extremely lucrative for gangsters such as Al Capone, but after
prohibition ended, organized crime exited the business because it was no
longer profitable. Brown says the same thing would happen if pot were
"Prohibition is what allows people to profit off it," he says. "It's really
something that's ludicrous. It's a bunch of our police force that's being
wasted. We have people being shot every weekend, but cops are taking down
( grow-ops )."
The Liberal government has introduced a bill that would decriminalize
possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and the growing of three or
fewer marijuana plants. It also increases the maximum penalty for anyone
who grows more than 50 marijuana plants to 14 years in prison from seven.
But Brown says decriminalization isn't the right solution because grow-ops
will still be lucrative for organized crime.
"It's still not going to stop growers. It's still going to waste police
officers' time trying to bust grow-ops," he says.
Busting grow-ops is a busy pastime for Calgary police right now. So far in
2005, police have already busted 52 grow-ops and seized pot plants valued
at $27.9 million. Last year police busted 234 grow-ops and seized pot
valued at over $100 million.
The Calgary Police Services remains opposed to decriminalization and
legalization. "It's an addictive drug associated with organized crime,"
says drug unit detective Nina Vaughan.
Yet despite the crackdown, there's increased demand for the product.
According to the recently released Canadian Addiction Survey, the number of
people who have used pot at least once in their lives has doubled in the
last 15 years to 44.5 per cent in 2005 from 23.2 per cent in 1989. Alberta
has a higher rate at 48.9 per cent.
And there's been no success at keeping pot out of the hands of teenagers.
The survey found 30 per cent of 15 to 17 year olds and 47 per cent of 18 to
19 year olds in Canada have smoked pot in the last year.
Brown is also hoping the marijuana protest will raise awareness about the
ineffectiveness of the federal government's medicinal marijuana program.
People with serious medical conditions, including AIDS, cancer and MS, can
get government permission to use pot as long as their doctor will support
them in their application. But Brown says many sick people who could
benefit from using marijuana aren't getting approved.
"It's a long, arduous process to get certified. A lot of doctors are afraid
to prescribe it," says Brown.
The federal government is also supplying pot to those who get permission to
use it, but Brown says the quality is so low people are opting not to use
it and are forced to get their supply from drug dealers on the street. Fast
Forward was unable to reach anyone at Health Canada for comment.
The Global Marijuana March Calgary protest is taking place Saturday, May 7
at Tompkins Park at 2:30 p.m. Protestors will march to Olympic Plaza, where
there will be speeches from medicinal marijuana activist Grant Krieger and
Marijuana Party member Logan Marshall.
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom