Pubdate: Tue, 25 Mar 2008
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Elise Stolte, The Edmonton Journal
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


Drug Dealers Heading West to Cash in on Economy

EDMONTON -- Central Canadians aren't just attracted west by the
oilpatch. Alberta's drug market is tempting, too, says Toronto-based
gang expert Michael Chettleburgh. "We know gangs from Ontario are
starting to move westward because of all the money that's being made,"
Chettleburgh said. "That's driving the growth in gangs right now. I've
met some 16-, 17- or 18-year-old gangsters that, when you try to talk
to them about leaving the gang, they'll say, 'Some nights I can make
$2,000 selling crack. Why would I want a $10-an-hour job pumping gas?'"

Chettleburgh, 42, is the author of Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous 
World of Canadian
Street Gangs (HarperCollins, 2007). He'll be speaking Wednesday at 
the University of
Alberta's Lister Conference Centre with police Chief Mike Boyd.

Chettleburgh was trained as an economist. He started his research
efforts into youth gangs in 1995 when he was contracted by the Ottawa
Police Service to evaluate the effectiveness of a youth drop-in program.

In 2003, he authored the first national study of youth gangs and
expects his second national study to be released this summer.

In Alberta, gangs are all about the business of drugs, a market driven
by demand, he said, citing Health Canada numbers estimating that this
year five million people will use illicit drugs at least once and many
of them will chose marijuana. The number of users, age 15 to 64,
roughly doubled between 1994 and 2004, he said.

One part of a solution he argues for is to legalize marijuana, tax it,
and put the money into education programs, he said, pointing to the
success of anti-smoking campaigns. "If we were to legalize and control
cannabis and tax it as we do with alcohol, we would create a
multibillion-dollar fiscal dividend."

He sat at an airport recently and overheard a group of teenage girls
talking about the great ecstasy they took at a party on the weekend.

"I asked them, 'Do you guys have any idea what you're talking about?'

The average amount of real ecstasy in a pill offered at these dance
parties is only three per cent. The rest is LSD, meth or even crystal
Drain-O, he told them. "Gangs will make these drugs out of anything
they can get their hands on."

The girls were shocked, he said. "We need to spend more money
educating kids. That would help a lot of them make better choices."

Communities need to pull together for prevention, he said. People can
help when they get involved in groups like Big Brother Big Sister or
Edmonton's Community Solutions to Gang Violence, the group hosting
Wednesday's talk.

Gang members need support because they are often victims as well, he
said, and gave the example of a young boy who said he joined a gang
after his family moved into social housing simply because he was
beaten up seven times in as many days.

Police efforts fighting gangs should be targeted so they arrest the
worst 20 per cent, the leaders and core members responsible for most
of the crime, he said. Throwing marginal members in jail only hardens
them into career gangsters. "Police can't arrest themselves out of
this problem."

Chettleburgh is still finishing the next nationwide survey, based on
2007 statistics compiled by local police agencies. When it comes out
this summer, the big surprise will be the growth in aboriginal gang
involvement, particularly in the West, he said.

"They feel a sense of persistent discrimination and social exclusion.
For them, the gang is family, the gang is camaraderie. The gang is a
perverse expression of a warrior spirit.

"You have a growing gang problem," he added. "Still not out of
control, but it's going to continue to grow because of growth of the
young aboriginal population and a demand for illicit drugs that has
gone through the roof." 
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