HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Lasqueti Islanders Scoff At Mounties' Pot Claims
Pubdate: Thu, 26 Aug 2004
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
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Copyright: 2004 The Province
Author: Stuart Hunter


RCMP officer says residents use pot instead of cash

LASQUETI ISLAND -- "Disturbing." "Ludicrous." "Impossible."

Those were the printable sentiments of about 100 of Lasqueti Island's
400-odd residents who attended a public meeting here last night to address
RCMP allegations that Lasqueti is B.C.'s "Marijuana Mecca."

Residents of the mountainous, elongated island in the Strait of Georgia
"admit to using marijuana as a currency commodity instead of cash to conduct
business transactions," said Const. Beth Blackburn of the RCMP's Drug
Awareness Service.

The residents insist it's not true, but Blackburn stands by her statement.

"That's what we were told. We do believe it to be true," she said yesterday.
"We haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg yet. This is a huge issue.

"We see organized-crime groups not only growing it but putting it in the
streets, and it's not just restricted to the Hells Angels."

Blackburn said growers are also causing environmental problems by leaving
chemicals and equipment around that are leaching into streams.

"These marijuana grow-ops are a real detriment to the environment. It's

But Lasqueti Islanders -- some resembling refugees from the hippie era of
the 1960s -- said allegations of pot replacing cash as barter and being
grown by organized crime are downright dopey.

"I think it's a shame the island has to be tarnished to the degree that it
does," said semi-retired Vancouver criminal lawyer Jim Hogan, who has been
coming to the island for 27 years.

"It's a well-policed island -- by its own people, frankly. In all the years
I've been here, I don't think there has been more than 10 [criminal]

Laurence Fisher, who has lived here for 40 years and admits to being a
dedicated dope smoker for four decades, said ma-and-pa grow operations on
Lasqueti are being wrongly targeted.

And he said the Mounties are being "heavy-handed" by doing plane and
helicopter surveillance of the island, which has no power lines and no car

"It's disturbing -- it's like Vietnam when [helicopters] come down low and
heavy," said Fisher, a hippie who started the Magic Mountain Land Co-op in
the 1970s.

"Their approach is so heavy-handed. It's ludicrous.

"And I've never, ever been offered marijuana in exchange for anything. It's
less of a currency than lumber is."

Prior to last night's meeting, the RCMP allegations were the talk of choice
at the Lasqueti Island Hotel bar. "Organized crime," scoffed one man in a
beard and baseball cap. "I'd say disorganized crime, maybe."

Blackburn denied that police are targeting the island. "We've identified
over 500 marijuana plots between Vancouver Island and the other outlying
islands," she said.

But she noted that about 2,100 plants were seized during raids on indoor and
outdoor grow-ops on Lasqueti last week -- enough to keep the entire island
buzzed for months.

One outdoor grow-op features more than 800 marijuana plants, she said --
enough to supply each Lasqueti resident with two grams of dope a day for
three months.

"The bottom line is if marijuana is being grown on Crown land, we are going
to go in and extract it," Blackburn said. "We're taking a lot of it off the

Blackburn said aerial police intelligence shows both large and small
organized crime groups are growing weed on Lasqueti.

Rose Willow, the Islands Trust trustee for Lasqueti, said the issue has
divided families.

"Some people are real hot under the collar," said Willow, 61, who has lived
on Lasqueti for 24 years. "We all agree we don't like crime, but this is
about a gross invasion of people's privacy."
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