Pubdate: Fri, 27 Aug 2010
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2010 The Calgary Sun
Author: Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun


It doesn't happen by design, it's just how things shake out in the war
on drugs, says the senior cop.

Drug bust statistics compiled by a new Alberta police force created
largely to battle organized crime - the drug trade, in other words -
reveal a strikingly lopsided picture.

In 2009-10, the entity comprising city and RCMP officers known as
ALERT states it seized illicit drugs of various kinds worth $104 million.

Of that total, nearly $101 million was marijuana - the drug that,
unlike legal pharmaceuticals and alcohol, has never led to a fatal
overdose and which most Canadians believe should be

Seizures of the second-largest value was cocaine, at a distant $2.4

ALERT intelligence chief Insp. Jim Kennedy says the force "contends
with public demands, of what they see as important.

"It's going after the entities that do the most harm to the

The results heavily larded with pot numbers, he says, are a reflection
of the kind of tips received "that can't be ignored ... it's not like
we're focusing all our efforts on marijuana."

Among the other stated ALERT mandates are child sex offenders,
fugitives and white-collar criminals.

Busting the financial crooks requires heavy expenditures of resources
and time that marijuana investigations don't, explains Kennedy.

As a result, what the public mostly sees is the lower-hanging fruit of
the drug busts - almost entirely consisting of marijuana - which make
impressive show and tells.

"The drug files are the ones that typically grab the headlines,
they're tangible for the public to see," says Kennedy.

Precisely. And it's not as if police are exhibiting against their

The inspector's message is that there just aren't the resources to
decisively deal with organized criminals driven largely by the
lucrative drug trade.

"It's hard to tell how big a dent you're making - it's about trying to
prevent growth ... if we can hold our own, it's a goal worth going
after," says Kennedy.

The unspoken elephant in the living room is how prohibition
supercharges the value of drugs and the incentive to peddle them and
keeps spinning law enforcement into a perpetual merry-go-round
pursuing it.

The still fledgling ALERT has been expanding its budget and range
throughout the province and hopes to further extend it, says Kennedy.

Meanwhile, as reported in Maclean's, the RCMP last fall abruptly
pulled out of a Vancouver news conference where the force was to
acknowledge what it knew - that the Insite safe injection facility in
that city's downtown eastside is benefitting the community.

It's hard to disconnect all this with the Harper's government's
determination to build more prisons, despite an overall drop in the
crime rate - while Ottawa pushes through a get-tough-on drugs agenda
that's failed elsewhere.

Drug law reform activist Eugene Oscapella has researched the
dysfunctional war on drugs for two decades, but confesses he's rarely
seen dope seizure stats as heavily skewed as ALERT's.

"The war on drugs is a war on cannabis and if you end the war on
cannabis, the rest falls apart," said Oscapella, a lawyer and founder
of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.

"But this is even more than I would have expected ... this is crime
control as industry."

He notes with fascination how police and politicians swear by drug
prohibition "that creates this fantastically lucrative black market,
then complain about people enticed into it."

Even with Mexico's ghoulish narco war directly attributed to
counterproductive laws and an unquenchable appetite for drugs,
Ottawa's "going backwards," says Oscapella.

"It's hard to believe the government doesn't understand." 
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