Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2001
Source: Kelowna Capital News (BC)
Copyright: 2001, Kelowna Capital News Ltd.
Author: Marshall Jones


They are getting busted all the time, and why not. Growing marijuana is 
still illegal, although there have been some recent changes made to 
legislation regarding its medicinal use.

Marijuana growers know the risks but what bothers some of them is the broad 
characterization, perpetuated by the police, that they are all dangerous, 
gang-related organized criminals.

Truth is, in many cases, they could be neighbours, friends or your kid's 
soccer coach.

Some recent polls show public support for some sort of decriminalization 
nears 50 per cent.

But police in British Columbia are in the midst of a battle to sway public 
perception of marijuana growers back to that of the low-life criminal.

Reporter Marshall Jones tells us about some of the people behind these 
operations and  why they do it.

All out of joint

Some pot growers are balking at the picture the police paint of them.

Nelson sips from a gaping cup of milk-foamed coffee covered in chocolate 
sprinkles in his favourite haunt and explains not how it started, but how 
it ended.

The cops were called out to his home for an unrelated reason while he was 
out of town and found his marijuana plantation. They were back within hours 
to dismantle it and charge him and his room-mate with cultivating marijuana.

He took the rap and got a fine of $3,000. He has never paid it. He can't. 
The lumbering 61-year-old hippy with a Grade 8 education hates it, but he 
is on social assistance.

Half of what he once had he lost in divorce; the rest was lost in a 
business deal gone very sour.

"I'm what they call redundant in the job market," he says, which was how he 
got into this mess in the first place.

"I wanted to make enough money to get into legitimate enterprise. It was a 
means to an end. I am not making excuses here, I went into it with my eyes 
wide open. I was willing to take the hit, but that was why."

He was growing a few dozen plants at the time.

Nelson sold to friends and had a middle-man who unloaded the bulk of it 
out-of-province, but he says it was still of a small scale and laughs at 
the thought of sophistication.

He had all the major problems of regular greenhouse growing-disease, bugs, 
lights, power, start-up cash, etc.-plus the problems of landlords, 
neighbours and security. He hardly got it off the ground before it was 
taken out.

Nelson speaks plainly and openly about anything and everything, which 
explains why he can't conceal his most important detail.

When pressed, he reveals that he is pursuing an opportunity to 
"share-crop". He wants someone with cash to set him up with the lights, the 
fans, the clones and enough cash to find a rental home. He'll sit on the 
crop for a smaller cut.

"I am getting to the point where I really don't care," he says. "Throw me 
in jail, fine, I won't have to worry about rent, clothing, medical. I don't 
have a pension  fund. What else am I going to do?"

He laughs at the cash estimates used by law enforcement.

There is money there, he says, but it is neither as lucrative, nor as easy 
as it is made out to be.

Since he was busted, Nelson (not his real name) is now one of 600,000 
Canadians with a criminal record related to marijuana since the charge was 
included in the Narcotic Control Act of 1923.

Technically, those 600,000 people were charged with simple possession.

So as a grower Nelson wonders if he is one of the gangsters, one of the 
sophisticated B.C. organized criminals who he hears has built the dope 
trade and giving B.C. an international reputation for high-grade marijuana.

Is he one of the pot growers we are warned to be afraid of? Who we are told 
is trading his pot for cocaine pound for pound in exports to the U.S.?

"That certainly isn't me, so I don't know who (the police) are talking 
about," he says.

He is a predecessor to the dozens of marijuana grow raids that police have 
carried out in the Okanagan since Christmas, and more specifically, since 
the U.S. controlled United Nations publicly rebuked Canada for its lax 
attitude towards pot.


Herbert Schaepe, of the U.N.'s Narcotics Control Board, told the Canadian 
Press in February that Canadian law enforcement is doing everything it can 
but blasted judges, mostly from B.C., for "very, very low sentences and we 
wonder whether that policy is a sufficient deterrent to get people not to 
cultivate cannabis."

That, however, is quickly changing.

While Nelson got a typical fine three years ago, sentences have increased 

A year of closed custody for a first time offence is becoming standard and 
B.C.'s highest court, the Court of Appeal, is upholding them.

Just how much a war of words from within B.C. and outside these borders is 
affecting these decisions is known only by judges themselves.

But what irks those who grow small-scale shows like Nelson, is not the 
raids or in most cases even the sentences; pot growers know full well what 
they are getting into.

They protest the characterizations of them by the RCMP and CrimeStoppers, 
and now the U.N. and judges, which they say is whipping up the public into 
a frenzy.

Wade Jenson, a defence lawyer, says we are witnessing a public relations 
campaign to wrestle public support away from decriminalization to public 
support for police raids of marijuana grow shows.

"They have to," he says. "The RCMP knows that the average citizen could 
care less."

The great majority of his clients in this area, and most of those before 
the courts, are not growers on any great commercial scale, he says. They 
are small time, growing mostly for themselves, a few friends and clients 
and occasionally at street level.

So if the average grower isn't related to organized crime, then who is 
behind these  weed farms?

"It certainly isn't the men in trenchcoats and dark glasses doing this," he 
said. "It crosses the whole spectrum among the population at large from 
students to middle-aged couples with kids to individuals with criminal 
histories as you would expect. But I would guess that 50 per cent have no 
criminal histories whatsoever but that is not the impression being painted 
out there."

B.C. Marijuana Party candidates may be an accurate pool to draw from 
because it attracts this cross-section.

They include a 48-year-old male roofer; a nursing home worker and 
grandmother of six; a 40-year-old realtor; a farmer and mother of three and 
a 36-year-old hair stylist for examples.

Many of them have criminal records but mainly for marijuana possession or 

Kelowna RCMP estimate marijuana is being grown in at least 400 more homes 
here but the size of operations isn't known.

Annual Canadian production of marijuana is calculated at 800 tonnes and the 
U.N. figures 60 per cent of that is smuggled into the U.S.

Clearly someone is organizing this smuggling, but casual growers and 
smokers claim they are getting caught in the middle.

So says Bud (he chose the pseudonym), a 35-year-old married-with-children 
professional in Kelowna.

He has a small operation here to supply his own habit and those of his friends.

The last thing he wants is to get involved with gangs, he says.

"Being busted by the cops is the biggest concern," he says. "Getting 
hijacked by bikers is another, so I'm careful who I deal with."

He says he knew someone who made the mistake of buying clones off a biker. 
Two weeks later, he was working for them. So it pays to play it low-key.

Life is otherwise normal for Bud. He attends his kids' sports events, mows 
his lawn and pays his taxes.

Instead of kicking back with a beer like some people, he lights a joint.

He agrees with Jenson that most people don't care and shouldn't care what 
he does in his home.

"Most people around my age and younger have grown up with pot and they 
realize it is no worse than the legal drugs," he says. "About half the 
public would accept decriminalization especially if it would put a stop to 
some of the weird stuff that happens with organized crime."

But why is it so important in life as to risk, well, everything?

"At least part of it is defiance," he says. "What business is it of the 
cops and the government what kind of drug I choose to do especially when 
other drugs are legal. Call it civil disobedience until they wise up and 
legalize it."

Both Bud and Nelson are heavily armed with the theories and ideas of 
pro-marijuana advocates.

The Supreme Court of Canada announced in March that it will hear some of 
that information in charter arguments challenging the government's place in 
the homes of marijuana smokers and in other so-called "victimless crimes" 
such as prostitution.

The B.C. Court of Appeal left that door open after returning with a 2-1 
decision upholding the law against marijuana possession but conceding that 
it poses very little risk of harm to society.

They considered the 1973 LeDain Commission report which found that harm 
done by marijuana was so low that possession should not be considered a 
crime worthy of imprisonment and recommended decriminalizing it.

It is more fodder in the see-saw battle of marijuana laws. Their arguments 
are about as hard to prove or disprove as the protectionist theories.

They square off on everything from the strengths and effects of today's 
marijuana to "pot leads to harder drugs" to the politics of drug enforcement.

Perhaps their arguments are blind justification for what they do. Perhaps 
they have a point.

Bud simply enjoys it and wants to be able to enjoy it freely. Nelson 
certainly agrees with legalization but sees it more as a means to an end.

Nelson is now a criminal and plans to be again.

Once an apprentice jeweler, a sculptor and artist, he hopes again to make 
enough money to invest in himself since no one else will.

He's a risk for any business so he feels now he must match that with some 
risky business of his own. It's a path he has watched many others take.

"The whole idea that people choose a life of crime is absurd," he says, 
frustrated. "Believe me there are lots of crimes to get into and this is 
the most benign."

He was offered once a chance to work in a boiler room bilking money out of 
seniors by pushing foreign lottery tickets but turned it down. It was 
busted by RCMP weeks later.

He knows readers will judge him based on his choices, or as he sees it, the 
lack of choices.

"Now," he says. "Does this sound like I'm an organized criminal?"
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