Pubdate: Sat, 05 Mar 2005
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005 The Toronto Star
Authors: Betsy Powell and Joseph Hall
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Rochfort Bridge)
Bookmark: (Eugene Oscapella)
Bookmark: (Cole, Jack)


Prohibition Causes Grow Ops, Many Say

Warnings Against Knee-Jerk Response

The slaying of four young RCMP officers in rural Alberta is being cited by 
some as evidence of the dangers marijuana grow ops pose to the public and 
police and has brought renewed calls for tougher laws and sentences.

But what makes grow ops dangerous are Canada's marijuana laws, say many 
legal and narcotics experts who argue further "criminalization" would only 
lead to more bloodshed. Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has said she's 
prepared to consider tougher penalties and noted legislation before 
Parliament will require a judge to provide written reasons if he or she 
decides not to hand out jail time to anyone convicted of running a grow op.

Federal legislation, reintroduced in November, recommends reducing 
penalties for possession of small amounts of pot while providing harsher 
sentences for marijuana growers. Anyone convicted of having more than 50 
plants could be imprisoned up to 14 years.

Debate on Canada's marijuana laws has been renewed following the shooting 
deaths of the RCMP officers near Rochfort Bridge, Alta., Thursday during an 
investigation into stolen property and a marijuana grow op.

Lawyer Eugene Oscapella, former chairman of the Law Reform Commission of 
Canada's drug policy group, calls Ottawa's "get tough stance" in the wake 
of the Alberta tragedy "absurd."

"The whole reason grow ops exist is because of prohibition," Oscapella said 

"This is very simple economics and it's really appalling that the 
governments, not just this but the past governments, profess to have such a 
sophisticated understanding of economics but can't seem to grasp the fact 
that they've created this incredibly powerful, lucrative and violent black 
market in Canada."

Tougher drug laws "actually are going to make it far more dangerous for the 
beat cop," he said, because it is going to drive the trade "more and more 
out of the hands of non-violent, ma-and-pa producers and into the hands of 
organized crime," he said from Ottawa.

Oscapella and others caution that this week's violence is also an anomaly, 
with the vast majority of indoor grow ops continuing to be run by small 
operators for personal use.

A senior officer with the OPP's drug squad says that police rarely 
encounter violence during grow-op busts, facing significant resistance at 
only about two in every 800 search warrants they carry out.

But Det. Staff Sgt. Rick Barnum says that is due almost entirely to the 
training of drug squad officers, who often storm the operations without any 
warning to the growers.

But Barnum says that of more than 1,800 grow operation raids in Ontario 
since 2002, some 1,975 weapons have been found.

"That's more than one per search warrant, and those weapons aren't there 
for decorations," he says.

Barnum, however, says that relaxing marijuana laws will not help get rid of 
the grow op plague, as much of the marijuana grown in them is destined for 
lucrative, but illicit markets in the U.S.

Jack Cole, a former undercover narcotics agent from New Jersey, who now 
heads the pro-legalization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), 
agrees the Alberta tragedy is likely a direct result of laws that make 
marijuana's growth and use illegal.

"And creating rigid laws with stiffer penalties because of this situation 
is a knee-jerk thing that policy makers (will likely) do because they don't 
seem to know anything else," says Cole, "But when they do that it will only 
make things worse... the harsher the penalties, the more likely it is that 
(more) officers will be killed."

Cole, who worked 14 years undercover with the New Jersey State Police, says 
his country's 35-year-old war on drugs and its 1920s alcohol prohibition 
experience show restrictive policies make the use of banned substances more 
pervasive and their distribution more lethal.

"What does prohibition of anything get us?

"Prohibiting drugs does not cause less people to use them; we know that," 
he says.

Indeed, Cole says, the U.S. war on drugs, declared by president Richard 
Nixon in 1970, has coincided with an exponential increase in the number of 
illegal drug users in America.

Federal U.S. data shows the number of people using illegal drugs grew from 
about 4 million in the late 1960s to more than 37 million in 1999.

"As soon as we prohibit a drug we create an underground market for that 
drug," Cole says. "And that underground market is instantly filled with 

With the "obscene" profits available to those selling the drugs, motivation 
to protect their trade by any means possible becomes overwhelming, says 
Cole. "I'll guarantee you that whole armies of police cannot arrest our way 
out of this when there's such profits to be made," he says.

Prominent Toronto criminal lawyer Paul Copeland says current laws against 
marijuana growers are "incredibly stupid" and that even more violence would 
likely occur if they were actually toughened.
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