Pubdate: Fri, 31 Oct 2003
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Author: Colby Cosh


On Wednesday the Post revealed some remarkable facts taken from a
confidential RCMP intelligence report on household marijuana factories
("grow-ops"). It seems the pot business is now "epidemic" in suburbs
in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia; the annual Canadian
marijuana harvest is estimated to be on the order of 800,000 kilograms.

Dan McTeague, a Liberal MP uncomfortable with his government's
progress toward decriminalizing marijuana possession, offered an
interesting response to the report. "The issue of decriminalization
has obscured the real problem here," says Mr. McTeague. "We seem to
have lost sight of the profound implications for public security that
stems from marijuana grow operations."

Heh. Dude, check it out -- he said "stems."

Mr. McTeague certainly has a point.

In British Columbia particularly, the prevalence of grow-ops has
brought violent crimes normally associated with the inner city to more
affluent suburbs.

More and more often, owners of $300,000 houses are awakening to the
clanging sounds of a machete fight next door. Home invasions and
ordinary burglaries, the cops say, are increasing. It is typical for a
"grow-op" to steal electricity from neighbours so as to disguise the
heavy spike in energy usage which such an operation entails, and which
would normally attract immediate police attention.

All this does have implications for the security of people who might
have thought they were too rich to have to live alongside bikers and
gangsters. And it's happening for one reason: Marijuana is illegal.

The business is controlled by organized crime, and provides its
foot-soldiers with a livelihood, only because Imperial Tobacco isn't
allowed to take it over. Grow-ops are found in suburban houses only
because it is unwise to grow marijuana in the open. And violence
follows grow-ops around only because pot growers can't call the cops
when someone is trying to rip them off. Legalize the mass production
of marijuana tomorrow, and the "security" issue would evaporate. No
one who refuses to acknowledge that we are suburbanizing organized
crime to attain some unknown reduction in marijuana use should be
considered a reasonable participant in discussions about drug law.

Yet Liberal Bill C-38, the measure (now in legislative limbo) that
would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of
marijuana, would also have markedly increased the maximum criminal
penalties for marijuana cultivation. And even this wasn't good enough
for police lobby groups, who, like Mr. McTeague, want to implement
minimum penalties for pot growing. (Sure, we hand out flimsy
conditional sentences to sex criminals, but drug dealers? Those guys
are bad!) Going after the supply in this way will guarantee that
marijuana continues to be artificially scarce, and therefore
expensive, and therefore profitable. Any such measure will only make
the "security" issue worse by raising the legal and financial stakes
for the growers.

Why does Mr. McTeague think grow-ops steal electricity from
homeowners? They could afford the stuff if they were allowed to buy
it, no doubt.

But since growing pot already puts you at risk of a heavy jail term,
why not steal? There are a whole lot of people out there reading this,
I know, who pretend to be baffled when anyone suggests there is a
difference between a "victimless" crime, like pot growing, and a real
crime, like theft.

Can they really mean that having a neighbour manufacture reefer in his
basement bothers them as much as having a neighbour steal electricity
from them would?

What's interesting is how completely attacks on the supply of
marijuana have failed to affect demand, which seems to react to the
cultural environment far more elastically than to legal incentives. A
Health Canada poll presented to the House of Commons last week shows
that marijuana is now more popular than tobacco with teenagers (which
is just as well, since it is probably safer). It is easier for teens
to obtain a drug that is illegal for everybody than it is to obtain a
drug that is illegal just for them, because there's an established,
unregulated system of unlawful distribution in place for the latter.

There isn't one, yet, for tobacco -- but there will be, if the taxes
on it continue to rise. A 68-year-old farmer near Vulcan, Alta., was
busted on Tuesday for running a combined pot/tobacco factory; he was
caught with 900 illicit tobacco plants and hundreds of bundles of
dried tobacco leaves.

Police described it as a "tobacco grow-op." Remember that phrase:
You'll probably see it again.

If we proscribed tobacco completely, we would naturally expect illegal
grow-ops to spring up in tens of thousands of houses overnight.

If we subjected tobacco growing to the same penalties that pot growing
brings, those grow-ops would quickly become another lucrative monopoly
for the irretrievably anti-social. More innocent homeowners would find
their energy bills unaccountably high at the end of each month, and
more rich suburbanites would suddenly find that they have new
neighbours named "Big Al" and "Stinky." And whether or not you
consider marijuana qualitatively different, as a substance, from
tobacco, the economic laws governing its creation and distribution are
the same. They're the same, in fact, as they are for frappuccino and
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