HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html The Day That Paradise Went To Pot
Pubdate: Sun, 29 Aug 2004
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Province
Author: Stuart Hunter


Lasqueti Island Residents Get Their Apology From The RCMP After A
Marijuana Crackdown

LASQUETI ISLAND -- It was another day in paradise for the folks living in 
"Disability Acres" until an RCMP helicopter on a marijuana mission turned 
it into a scene out of Apocalypse Now.

Jay Rainey was returning to her ramshackle home after collecting two 
buckets of seaweed to make dirt for her garden when she spotted the chopper 
hovering just metres from her roof.

And when the pot-busters saw Rainey, the chase was on.

"They followed me through the woods," said Rainey, 38, who's been coming to 
Lasqueti for a dozen years. "I was breaking branches trying to get through 
and then I got lost because I was looking up so much and then I got caught 
in some terrible underbrush.

"When I finally got out to the road and they saw what I had they just flew 

Like many in this quirky island of 400 souls living in the Strait of 
Georgia, Rainey -- Lasqueti's self-proclaimed Chicken Lady -- recalls the 
Mounties' annual cannabis crackdown with a mixture of resignation and 
outrage -- feelings she shared with her fellow Lasquetians at last 
Wednesday's community meeting with police to address concerns about the 
island's off-shore force.

"I'm just a stupid little twit who raises birds and I don't need to be 
chased through the bush by coppers," Rainey told the raucous meeting. "Now 
I can't trust the police because I have been harassed."

Residents contend police violated their rights by hovering too close to 
homes, breaking solar panels and scaring livestock, entering homes without 
search warrants and damaging property like water lines during the 
crackdown, which netted 2,100 plants.

The RCMP eventually apologized for calling Lasqueti B.C.'s "Marijuana 
Mecca" but the cops are sticking to their belief that organized crime runs 
the island's grow-ops and that residents use pot as a form of currency -- 
two ideas the islanders claim are ludicrous.

Pot is indeed present on Lasqueti but it's hardly a community of stoned 
hippies paying for chocolate zucchini loaf at the local bakery with a 
couple of joints. Rather it's populated by people looking for an 
alternative lifestyle, like Laurence Fisher, who's been on Lasqueti for 
four decades and a pot user the entire time.

"I don't like the negative publicity, but in some ways it's good because it 
keeps the riff-raff off the island," said Fisher, who started the 850-acre 
Magic Mountain Land Co-op in the 1970s. "I don't grow myself -- I'm too 
busy. And you can't make loads of money here doing it -- it's too hard 
here. You don't come here for that -- you come here for the alternative 

Fisher, 55, made that point -- rather humorously -- at the community 
meeting attended by one-quarter of the population.

"I've been smoking pot for over 40 years," Fisher began before his voice 
trailed off, "Ah . . . now what was my point again?"

Life on Lasqueti isn't easy.

There's no car ferry, no hydro, cellphone coverage is spotty, jobs are few 
and far between, and secrets are even more scarce. There's one hotel/pub, 
one taxi, a bakery, a post office and a fire station on the 
21-kilometre-by-five-kilometre island.

Residents seem to subsist on meagre incomes and gardens and get power from 
solar panels, generators, water wheels and propane. Many people work 
several part-time jobs to make ends meet. Others work as little as 
possible, existing on trust funds and inheritances.

Homes are modest but comfortable and there are even a few multi-million 
dollar houses, such as the $4-million one used two weeks a year by a San 
Francisco executive.

"I've been here 24 years and things have really changed," said Rose Willow, 
one of two Islands Trust trustees along with Bronwyn Preece. "There was a 
time when I knew every person and every person's dog. But you still have 
that level of personal autonomy. If your car breaks you have to deal with 
it -- you can't call BCAA."

Staff-Sgt. Bill Van Otterloo of the Oceanside RCMP detachment has pledged 
to investigate the residents' concerns but he added as long as marijuana 
remains illegal, it's his job to keep it off the streets. He suggested the 
force may have to begin looking at new ways to police the pot on Lasqueti.

"I'm thinking that we have to address some of these issues in a different 
way and I'm hoping that we can do that in a collaborative way by listening 
to the needs of the community and addressing what they feel is important to 
them," Van Otterloo said after a visit to some of the homes damaged during 
the raids. "Lasqueti is no different than any other part of my policing 

Rainey welcomed the RCMP apology but added Lasqueti's reputation has 
already been sullied.

"It really worries me when our rights are eroded like that," said Rainey, 
chuckling at the fact that in the end the Mounties failed to find three pot 
plants she grows for personal use.

"This is a quirky little place but we are all old friends. It's a really 
cool place and the people here are good at taking care of each other."


- - Number of types of rolling papers available in the local store: Six

- - Price of gas on Lasqueti: $1.18/litre

- - Number of marijuana plants seized from Vancouver Island and the Gulf 
Islands by RCMP in the last 10 days: 18,300 plants. Number of arrests: Three.

- - Locals' description of the Strait of Georgia (which can be rough during 
the winter months): "A nine-mile moat with no drawbridge."

- - Number of dangerous animals on Lasqueti: None.

- - While the island has a population of just under 400, there was a 
traditional school and an alternative school until a few years ago due to 
in-fighting. Now there is only one.

- - Favourite saying about the dirt-caked cars on Lasqueti: "The beater, the 

- - While awaiting a special order of bread from the mainland, locals could 
only laugh wildly when told the loaf had already made two of the 
thrice-daily 55-minute crossings without being picked up from the dock next 
door. "The sea air is good for the dough," quipped one local.

- - How to tell a true local? Plastic gardening clogs or sandals held 
together by duct tape.

- - Major topic of conversation at the local store (aside from the police pot 
busts): Canning.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart