HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Back Off Busting B.C. Bud
Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jul 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Neil Boyd


All the recent talk about increasing penalties for marijuana grow
operations is a little confusing.

Last year both the RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of
Police endorsed decriminalization of marijuana possession, but this
year some police forces have taken to the media to demonize grow-ops.

We are told that growers are members of organized crime syndicates who
steal hydro, risk electrocuting themselves or others, deprive children
of oxygen, invite home invasions and start fires. Are there some bad
apples in this counter-culture industry or do all growers threaten

Thirty years ago the Canadian marijuana industry was largely based on
import-export transactions. Hashish was shipped to Canada from Lebanon
and Afghanistan and marijuana from Jamaica, Colombia, Thailand and
California. Today the import-export trade continues, but domestic
cultivation has taken over, supplying most of the domestic market and
a small part of the international market.

There are fewer Canadians using marijuana today than twenty years ago,
but the industry still continues to supply millions of consumers every

It is the growers and the other distributors who continue to be most
enriched by our policy of criminal prosecution. The threat of
enforcement raises the price of the product, and this cost can be
easily passed on to the thousands of consumers in any urban community.

A 10-square-metre room can create for its occupant an income of more
than $100,000 annually. Police and court personnel also benefit from
the marijuana control industry; some police positions depend on
criminal enforcement of the marijuana trade and there is a lot of
well-compensated overtime work in court appearances.

The cat and the mouse have different roles, but there is a systemic
reluctance to give up the game. The mice can become comfortable, or
maybe even wealthy, by evading detection and punishment.

As the cats have a great many mouths to feed, public support for
enforcement must be maintained (hence the recent spate of scary
stories about the dangers of grow operations).

To be fair, many of the growers are not especially admirable citizens.
Greed and risk are a part of the marijuana business.

And selling a drug for a living (even if it is a less dangerous drug
than alcohol or tobacco) can't rank too highly on any list of social

But it is our policy of prohibition that is lining the pockets of our
province's marijuana distributors. In the Netherlands, where marijuana
can be bought or sold without penalty, there are fewer users in every
age group and the price is lower. The Dutch have effectively succeeded
in making marijuana a less valuable commodity - and less of a threat
to public health.

Back to British Columbia and our problem with the grow-ops. Some
amount of blame is placed on some of the growers - those who steal
hydro or risk harm to others can be properly prosecuted for these
activities. But marijuana can be grown safely, in and out of doors,
with and without electricity and its attendant risks.

Most important, consider the costs and benefits of continued
prohibition. The costs? Hundreds of millions annually for enforcement,
imprisonment, courtrooms and lawyers, not to mention the human costs
of conviction and imprisonment. The benefits? Nothing that jumps to
mind immediately.

Marijuana is a drug, not unlike alcohol or tobacco. And as a drug, it
presents us with a mix of potential social and physical problems:
dependence, loss of productivity, and respiratory risk.

But how far should we go in this crusade for public health? Can the
use and distribution of cannabis be regarded as criminal, when the
other drugs that we drink and inhale every day are even more of a
problem for us?

Neil Boyd is a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University
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