Pubdate: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Source: Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Frank Matys
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


As the nation prepares for a mellowing of Canada's pot laws, a
prominent defence lawyer and Orillia municipal councillor is sounding
an alarm over the exploding popularity of an altogether different drug.

So widespread is the craving for crack cocaine that demand for the
drug is driving up incidents of petty theft and other crimes that give
addicts quick access to cash, said Carl Garland.

"All this talk about marijuana really seems to be distracting from the
real problem we have in the community," he added. "We have a serious
crack addiction problem right now."

Over the last three years, Garland said he has witnessed a staggering
increase in the number of people who claim they were driven to crime
by a crack addiction.

"It (happens) all the time," he added. Much to his dismay, it is
another drug that is all but hogging the limelight these days, as
Ottawa prepares legislation that would relax the country's pot laws -
at least where small-time users are concerned. Crack, more so than
marijuana, should be the focus of society's concern, argues Garland.

"It is a vicious crash-and-burn drug, and I think it is an epidemic in
our community," he said of the smokable and highly-addictive narcotic.

"I don't think that most law-abiding citizens have a

Garland's concerns about crack were echoed by OPP Staff Sgt. Rick
Barnum, a 10-year veteran of drug enforcement, stationed at General
Headquarters in Orillia.

"It is a serious, serious issue for smaller communities and it will
cripple a community in my opinion," Barnum told The Advance.

No city or town is immune from its influence - Barrie included, he

"It leads to break and enters, prostitution, people driving impaired.
It is just a mind-boggling drug," he added.

Though similarly priced to conventional cocaine, at about $120 per
gram, crack is considered nearly "pure" compared with the powdered
form, which is often diluted with other substances.

As a result, "the intensity of the high is extreme, really, really
high, but it doesn't last as long as a powdered cocaine would," Barnum
said. "It is probably as addictive as heroin."

Where several years ago individual crack seizures commonly weighed in
at a gram or two, police are now capturing as much as seven ounces in
a single bust.

So strong is its pull, officers staking out crack houses commonly see
addicts visiting their dealer twice in an hour, "probably dropping $50
or $60 at a time," Barnum said.

"The addiction rate is so intense and the high is so extreme, you go
right back to it," he said.

Garland, who opened a private law practice in Orillia in the
mid-1990s, became director of the criminal law office for Legal Aid
Ontario last February.

He believes federal legislation that proposes fines instead of jail
time for those nabbed with small amounts of pot, while removing the
criminal element associated with possession, does little to improve
the situation.

"I can't see how that is an improvement to what we have now," he

The reality, said Garland, is that the vast majority of people caught
with small quantities of marijuana will never see the inside of a jail
cell, as prosecutors and defence lawyers steer those cases away from
the courts through a process known as diversion.

"If you get caught with a small amount now, there is no criminal
sanction at all," he said.

Instead, the accused are usually ordered to make amends in some other
way, possibly through a donation to addiction research or a related

"But that is the end of that," Garland added.

"Now, it appears they are going to replace that with some sort of
regulation where, if you violate it you end up with a set fine."

While individuals would no longer be saddled with a criminal record,
Garland is concerned that a fine associated with drug possession could
give U.S. Customs reason enough to refuse a person entry.

"What is to stop the Americans from saying at the border, 'Have you
ever been convicted of this regulatory offense?' And if you answer
yes, well then you are not going to Disney World."

While agreeing that dealers caught selling to school children must
face stiff penalties, as should those convicted of driving while
impaired by pot, Garland is less convinced personal use of the drug
warrants a law that, at least in theory, could result in a criminal

"If somebody wants to smoke up on their own time and not hurt anybody,
is that really going to bother me?" he asked.

When the law governing pot possession was struck down in a
headline-grabbing court decision cheered by tokers across the land,
Canadians enjoyed temporary freedom from prosecution, Garland noted.

"We went six months where the possession of marijuana was not a
criminal offense," he added. "Did it have an effect on our community,
really? The world didn't come crashing down on top of us."

For his part, Barnum sees nothing helpful in the government's plans
for decriminalization, pointing out, like Garland, that teens nabbed
with a small stash of pot are already unlikely to face criminal charges.

"If we catch a first-time offender, a 15-year-old girl with a half
gram of marijuana, we don't want to give her a criminal record for the
rest of her life," he said.

"Nine times out of 10, if we don't divert it right there, the court
will anyway."

What most irks Barnum are the relatively light sentences he says
large-scale growers often receive for their crimes, a far cry from the
seven-year maximum sentence available to judges.

His advice?

"Apply the laws that we have and get away from conditional sentences,
and start using that in our favour instead of their favour," he said.

"You can increase the penalties to a million years, but if the courts
don't enforce them, it doesn't matter."
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