HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html British Columbia Tolerates Marijuana In Its Midst
Pubdate: Sun, 27 Aug 2000
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2000 The Register-Guard
Contact:  PO Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440-2188
Website: http://www.registerguard.com/
Author: James Brooke, The New York Times

BRITISH COLUMBIA TOLERATES MARIJUANA IN ITS MIDST

VANCOUVER, B.C. - As Canada's health department looks this fall for a
reliable supplier of almost 1 million marijuana cigarettes for clinical
trials, some Canadians say they need to look no further than British
Columbia, where relaxed attitudes about smoking marijuana have helped
turn the province into a major North American producer for some of the
drug's strongest strains.

While Mexicans can grow bales of the stuff on plantations, cold
weather Canadians have genetically tweaked their indoor plants to
reach potencies of 10 times the levels of the Woodstock-era grass,
putting it on a par with prized Jamaican weed.

Now marijuana is estimated to be a $1 billion-a-year export here,
right behind lumber and tourism as the leading business in British
Columbia. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimate that there are
about 9,000 ``grow operations'' in the Vancouver area. Across the bay
from here, in the city of Nanaimo, the Mounties estimate that there are
1,000 residential grow operations, about one every two blocks.

``In my neighborhood, it's one house in 10,'' said Chris, a 40-year-old 
grower. ``I walk around late at night, after work, and I can smell it, 
from the fans.''  

Increasingly, marijuana turns up in the oddest places. In May, a
newspaper here reported that a man had been caught growing plants in a
garage of a house he rented from the attorney general of the province.

On Aug. 12, two Canadian men wearing military uniforms were arrested in
Blaine, Wash., after crossing the border in two Canadian military
trucks: The U.S. Customs Service said one truck was loaded with five
duffel bags, containing 240 pounds of marijuana.

The concentration of marijuana growing stems from many factors.  

Judges, mirroring local public opinion, tend to give lenient 
punishments. An arrest for growing 500 plants, the average size of a 
bust here, often yields an $800 fine - compared with a short prison 
sentence in California or a life sentence in Texas.  

``I paid my partner's fine, $500, with money from the business, it's a 
business,'' said Buck, an engaging 30-year-old in a polo shirt. He said 
he talked his way out of any charges when a policeman his age 
discovered his grow operation earlier this year.  

A study by the local newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, found that of 112 
people convicted here of growing marijuana in the late 1990s, one 
quarter served no jail time and paid no fines, and that 58 percent paid 
fines of less than $1,800. Fewer than one in seven served any jail 
time.  

With prices for ``B.C. Bud'' double on the American side of the border, 
marijuana is indeed lucrative in a province with some of North 
America's highest tax rates, stagnant economic growth and high 
unemployment among young people.  

Vancouver also offers the technical support a serious grower needs. 
With cultivators here approaching their indoor marijuana farming with 
the solemnity of Japanese bonsai gardeners, the number of stores 
specializing in hydroponic gardening equipment mushroomed in Vancouver 
during the 1990s, from three to 30. Growing plants without soil, in a 
mix of rock pellets and nutrient-rich water, requires an array of 
electric gadgets - from 1,000-watt lamps to cooling systems to special 
systems that neutralize telltale odors before ventilation.  

At one store, Jon's Plant Factory, the offerings do not seem geared to 
growing hydroponic tomatoes. In the electronic section, there is a 
$1,400 sophisticated pager, sort of an electronic plant sitter that can 
alert the long distance gardener of system failures - water pumps, air 
fans, fertilizer drips - even if an intruder has opened a window or a 
door.  

Referring to complex growing systems, Chris, an experienced electrician 
and plumber, said during a store tour: ``Some people will sell their 
feeding schedules for $6,000.''  

Cheaper technical support comes from Marc Emery, Canada's leading 
cannabis capitalist. Emery offers 350 varieties of marijuana seeds 
through his Web site and publishes Cannabis Culture, a magazine of 
gardening tips. Earlier this year, he started two Internet media 
productions, Pot Radio and Pot-TV Internetwork, a 24-hour online 
broadcast of marijuana news.  

For marijuana broadcasters like Emery, the news from Canada this summer 
has been encouraging.  

In separate rulings in late July, Ontario Court of Appeal judges ruled 
against employee drug testing and invalidated Canada's law against 
marijuana possession. In the latter case, Judge Marc Rosenberg 
suspended his ruling for a year to give Parliament time to rewrite the 
law. His ruling, however, immediately granted Terry Parker, a 44-year-
old Toronto man, the right to smoke marijuana to help control his 
epilepsy.  

With Parliament scheduled to return in September, Canada's two national 
newspapers, The Globe and Mail and The National Post, have 
editorialized in favor of decriminalizing marijuana for medical uses. 
On that subject, Canadians, as usual, are cautiously looking at the 
United States.  

``Outright legalization would cause serious trouble with the United 
States,'' The Globe and Mail editorialized after the Ontario decision. 
Calling for decriminalization, a path favored by the Canadian 
Association of Chiefs of Police, the newspaper concluded: ``Therefore, 
Canada should follow its historical nature and take a middle path.''  

In a survey here in May for The Vancouver Sun, 56 percent of the people 
agreed that provincial courts should ``ignore the Americans and hand 
out sentences we think are appropriate.'' A virtually identical 
percentage said that possession of marijuana should not be a criminal 
offense.  

With 61 seriously ill people authorized by Health Canada to smoke 
marijuana for medicinal purposes, the government plans to start 
clinical trials of marijuana next year.  

When smugglers are cornered at the border, the smart ones sprint north. 
Even so, the border is lightly patrolled and few people are caught, 
compared with the intensely watched U.S. border with Mexico. In the 
federal fiscal year ending last September, U.S. Customs Service agents 
seized 50 times as much marijuana coming in from Mexico, 988,310 
pounds, as they seized coming in from Canada, 19,753 pounds.  

This year, the Vancouver police have raided marijuana growing 
operations at twice the rate of last year. But they are careful to 
publicize their raids as efforts to break up vicious Asian gangs, to 
protect children from fires in houses with faulty wiring, or to break 
up smuggling rings.  

``We have houses burning down, we have explosions, we have organized 
crime in our neighborhoods,'' said Sgt. Chuck Doucette, the Mountie 
spokesman here. Noting that anonymous tips about grow houses have 
flooded his office this year, he added: ``We cannot keep up with the 
calls.''  

Still, decriminalization for casual use seems to be a reality here in 
Vancouver.  

Last May, hundreds of people gathered for a marijuana ``smoke-in'' on 
the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, five blocks from the British 
Columbia premier's office. Vancouver police ignored the event.  
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