Pubdate: Fri, 31 Mar 2000
Source: Saanich News Weekend Edition (CN BC)
Contact:   1824 Store St. Victoria, B.C. V8T 4R4
Fax: 920-7352
Author: Matt Ramsey


Home gardening has taken on a whole new meaning in B.C. over the past

B.C. has what the police and mainstream media term a sprawling and out of
control "problem" with marijuana grow operations.

The grows spring up in homes and apartments in every neighbourhood,range in
size and complexity from a few plants under one light bulb to hundreds of
bud-laden pot plants, basking in the glow of thousands of dollars worth of
high-tech lighting.

As the number of busted grow operations increases, the more newspaper
headlines scream of the evils of B.C.'s marijuana industry and the more
police devote resources to clamping down on growers.

That clamp-down is now being seen in the court system. Recently, B.C.
Supreme Court Justice Allan Stewart called on his colleagues on the bench to
"up the ante" on growers by levying stiffer sentences to put growers behind

Earlier this month, Stewart sentenced Vancouver pot grower Jason Neubert to
two years less a day for 130 plants. Busted growers typically faced charges
of production of a controlled substance. In general, fines for those
convicted range, depending on the person's previous criminal record from
$500 to $6,000 and jail time is a possibility for repeat offenders.

Although calls for tougher sentences are a recurring chorus, more and more
the courts are moving to conditional sentencing (basically house arrest) for
convicted growers. It's more cost-effective than chucking them in prison and
throwing away the key, says Victoria-based Crown Prosecutor Brian Jones.

Police in the Capital Region welcome the idea of tougher sentences. As Sgt.
Paul Rioux of the Saanich police street crimes unit says, fines for growers
are generally seen as "just the cost of doing business".

Sgt. Dan Parker of the Victoria police street crimes unit agrees.

"Fines just seem like paying your insurance policy (for growers)," says

And the number of prow ops in Victoria is increasing. According to uniform
crime reports for 1998, Victoria police busted a dozen grow operations. In
1999, that number almost doubled to 23. The majority of grows take place in
rented properties.

"They're a constant and daily thing," says Parker. "There's just so many,
the drug section can't keep up with it."

Rioux and Parker admit that it's difficult, if not impossible to estimate
how many grow ops there are in the Capital Region.

"We know how many we bust. We don't know how many there are out there," says

And, from a policing perspective, taking down a grow is not cheap. A
significant amount of time and resources are needed to tear down the
physical operations and even more time and money to shepherd the whole case
through the courts, says Parker.

Why do grow operations mushroom like an out of control weed? Money.

A pound of good quality B.C. pot sells for approximately $2,300 in Canada.
Take that same pound across the border to Los Angeles and you can triple the
price to at least $6,000 (Can.) says Parker. It's no wonder B.C.'s weed is
referred to outside the province as "B.C. Gold".

The Hells Angels and Vietnamese gangs are generally blamed for the majority
of grow operations, but both Rioux and Parker say local growers bloom from
all walks of life, from university students to the professors teaching them
and every demographic in between.

Jones says it's a mistake to think of all growers as free-wheeling hippies
who simply share their harvests among friends.

"It's not just some kind of Johnny Appleseed person doing this," he says.
"It's very sinister."

Organized crime rings run most of the grows in B.C., says Jones. Profits
from exported marijuana are typically invested in the import of harder drugs
like cocaine and heroin, he claims.

And so, the police step their enforcement, organized crime rings respond by
starting more sophisticated grows and the whole situation plays itself out
in the headlines, bust after bust after bust. Yet the situation on the
street always remains the same. Supply is making it to the demand.

There is another way, says Simon Fraser University psychology professor Dr.
Bruce Alexander, author of the book, "Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of
the War on Drugs."

As far as Alexander is concerned, it is not the drugs themselves that are
causing the problems, but prohibition measures implemented by governments
that are the root cause of grow operations in the first place.

"It's just crazy to be sentencing people at all," says Alexander. "The Hells
Angels are involved because (marijuana) is illegal. We've created this
problem. We know how to solve it."

Alexander says the ongoing and highly-publicized war on growers is
"silliness", and represents Canadian and provincial governments bowing to
pressure from the U.S. and pharmaceutical companies, more than it does (to)
a sound social commitment to eradicate drugs from society.

Victoria-based pot activist Ian Hunter agrees. Prohibition and beefed up
enforcement campaigns are not getting rid of growers, he notes, but they are
giving police departments firm funding.

Furthermore, tougher sentences from the courts will have the opposite impact
than that intended, Hunter argues.

"The more likely you are to go to jail, the higher the price (of the
marijuana), the more unscrupulous the criminals will be," he says.

Police, says Hunter, can't hope to get rid of the grows completely,
especially considering what Hunter sees as a split in marijuana policy.

One the one hand, the drug is illegal in B.C. On the other, a recent case in
Victoria involving a tenant growing marijuana in his closet was not pursued
by the police. Officers seized the five plants and the lighting system but
did not pursue the case to the courts because they believed prosecution was

The landlord eventually tried to have the tenant evicted under the
Residential Tenancy Act. The arbitrator in the case found that five plants
in a closet did not compromise the landlord's rights because the amount of
pot was so small.

In other words. What's wrong with a home garden?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Don Beck