HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot
Pubdate: Thu, 04 Mar 2004
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Richard Foot, CanWest News Service
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Emery, Marc)
Bookmark: (Canadian Senate Committee on 
Illegal Drugs)


Legalize Vs Prosecute: With So Many Canadians Smoking And Growing It, Is A 
Ban Practical?

Canadians will today consume roughly 2,100 kilograms of marijuana -- enough 
to fill more than 150 large cardboard boxes. By the end of the year, three 
million of us, according to a recent study by the Senate, will have smoked, 
eaten or otherwise inhaled almost 770,000 kilograms of the stuff -- 
impressive numbers considering that marijuana use is a federal crime.

It is also a crime to cultivate the weed. Yet, police and industry insiders 
estimate about 215,000 growers across the country produce more than 2.6 
million kilograms of cannabis each year. In British Columbia alone, the 
pot-growing industry is believed to generate up to $6 billion in annual 
sales, making it one of the West Coast's biggest industries after forestry 
and tourism.

With so many Canadians smoking and growing marijuana, questions are being 
asked about why the federal government maintains its prohibition against 
the drug, and how, if the prohibition is sound public policy, police can 
ever be expected to properly enforce the law.

"Why doesn't the government stop dragging its feet and implement a fully 
legal regulatory regime for marijuana for everybody?" says Jody Pressman, a 
marijuana advocate in Ottawa.

Says Dana Larsen, editor of Vancouver-based Cannabis Culture Magazine, 
which sells 85,000 copies every month in Canada and the U.S: "Under a fully 
legalized system people could grow marijuana commercially and sell it in 
stores licensed by the government. It could be subject to health controls, 
quality controls and taxes. It wouldn't have to be more expensive than any 
other fruit or vegetable."

Such views are no longer the sole property of the political fringe. Two 
years ago, the Senate's special committee on illegal drugs interviewed 
2,000 witnesses as part of the most exhaustive Canadian study into 
marijuana in 30 years. The committee's 2002 report urged Ottawa to end its 
81-year-old prohibition by implementing a system to regulate the 
production, distribution and consumption of marijuana -- the same as 
governments do with alcohol.

"If the aim of [existing] public policy is to diminish consumption and 
supply of drugs, specifically cannabis, all signs indicate complete 
failure," the report said. "Billions of dollars have been sunk into 
enforcement without any great effect."

The Liberal government, however, is taking another route, choosing to 
simply decriminalize small-time pot usage and to toughen the law against 
commercial growers and dealers.

Bill C-10, introduced in the House of Commons last month, would make the 
possession of up to 15 grams of pot and up to three marijuana plants no 
more serious than driving over the speed limit, punishable by tickets and 
fines of between $100-$500.

The bill also increases the fines and jail terms for people caught 
trafficking or growing larger amounts of pot in an apparent bid to deter 
organized crime groups, whose entry into the industry in recent years has 
resulted in the proliferation of massive commercial grow operations 
throughout the country.

Yet, the proposed law isn't making anyone happy. Recreational smokers 
predict it will push up the demand and, therefore, the price of marijuana, 
making it a more attractive cash crop for organized crime.

People who use the drug for medicinal reasons complain the government 
should be finding ways to ensure them an effective and legal supply of 
marijuana instead of fiddling around with changes to the Criminal Code.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the bill will lead to more drug-induced 
traffic accidents, because police have no scientific way to measure how 
much marijuana impaired motorists might have been smoking.

"Police have no power to get drivers operating under the influence of 
marijuana off the roads," adds Gwendolyn Landolt, vice-president of REAL 
Women of Canada. "The message this gives Canadian youth is 'Don't drink and 
drive, just toke and drive.'"

Police organizations, meanwhile, argue that removing their discretionary 
power to arrest even small-scale marijuana users and growers will hamper 
efforts to fight the wider drug war.

"It's one thing to have 15 grams in your house, but should it be 
permissible to have 15 grams on the street, where someone could be pushing 
those drugs to kids?" says Kevin McAlpine, chief of the Durham Regional 
Police force and co-chair of the organized crime committee for the Ontario 
Association of Chiefs of Police. "That's the fine detail we're concerned 

RCMP Chief Superintendent Raf Souccar, director-general of the Mounties' 
drugs and organized crime section, says American officials have privately 
told him they are "extremely upset" by the decriminalization proposals.

As for the Senate, its 2002 report called decriminalization the "worst case 
scenario" because it would deprive the government of its ability to 
regulate and control a drug that decades of lawmaking has failed to suppress.

Even Bill C-10's own legislative summary warns that tougher marijuana laws 
could have the opposite intended effect on organized crime.

"Ironically, one of the possible consequences of heavier penalties may be 
to tighten the grip of organized crime on production," the summary says. 
"It is doubtful that members of criminal organizations would be concerned 
about heavier penalties."

The Senate reported that Canada's courts and police now spend up to $500 
million every year trying to enforce the marijuana laws, particularly 
against the indoor growing operations owned by biker gangs, Asian 
syndicates and other organized crime groups.

The scope of this phenomenon became apparent earlier this year when police 
in Barrie, Ont., busted a massive cultivation operation, with 25,000 cloned 
marijuana plants growing under rows of lights, inside a former Molson 
brewery on the side of one of Canada's busiest highways.

Police say the number of large, commercial growing operations has almost 
tripled over the last five years in Ontario alone.

Many such operations exist inside modern homes in suburban neighbourhoods. 
The houses are gutted and refitted for the sole purpose of cultivating pot.

Indoor operations have been made possible by hydroponic technology and by a 
1980s invention called the full-spectrum halide light, which utilizes huge 
quantities of electricity but allows pot growers to cultivate a mature 
plant in eight weeks. Electricity for the indoor lights is stolen from the 
local power company by experts who secretly re-wire the home's connection 
to the power grid in a way that escapes metering. Caretakers are then hired 
to watch over the operation, often without knowing who, or which crime 
gang, they're working for.

Police say at least 70 per cent of Canada's 2.6 million kilograms of 
cannabis output gets sold in the U.S., much of it smuggled across the 
border by crime gangs in exchange for guns, ecstasy and cocaine. It's 
America's insatiable appetite for marijuana and the easy money it promises 
that has lured organized crime into the marijuana racket in recent years.

Marc Emery, an activist who broadcasts Internet-based marijuana programming 
out of his "Pot-TV" offices in Vancouver, says the traditional cannabis 
community isn't inherently profit-focused or prone to violence; he says 
these are the unwelcome characteristics organized criminals are bringing to 
the business.

Police in Ontario have launched a campaign to smoke out gang-operated 
growing operations with a co-ordinated effort from hydro companies, banks, 
insurance and real estate firms. All of these unwittingly provide service 
to grow-ops in some way, and could help police stop new marijuana 
operations from moving into homes and other properties around the province.

Colin Kenny, the Tory senator who co-chaired the Senate's 2002 drugs 
committee, says such enforcement efforts are doomed to failure.

Consider, he says, the parallels between today's expanding problem and the 
crime-plagued U.S. prohibition on booze in the 1920s.

"We all know why Al Capone flourished," says Kenny. "It's because the 
government prohibited something the public was interested in. When there's 
a public demand for something and you make it illegal, that only makes it 
more valuable. And when you drive up the price you are going to have 
criminals moving in to exploit it.

"The only way to deal with big gro-ops is legalization."

Adds Larsen of Cannabis Culture Magazine, "These big-time grow-ops will 
continue to proliferate until marijuana is legalized. The police will keep 
busting them, not because they're getting better at it, but because 
there'll be more and more."

Biker gangs and Asian crime networks aren't the only people growing 
marijuana. It is also cultivated in every province and territory by people 
with small and medium-sized operations, many of them ordinary folk with 
legitimate day jobs and families. Emery estimates Canadian growers own an 
average of 4.5 lights each, producing half-a-kilogram of pot on average 
every two months.

Pot-growing is now as popular and as sophisticated a public pastime as the 
home-renovation craze, except that it doesn't manifest itself in big-box 
Home Depot stores. Instead, marijuana magazines and the Internet are filled 
with how-to, home growing guides and advice. There are CD-ROMs with 
pot-growing garden tips, and online seed banks.

Emery, arguably the world's largest marijuana seed seller, hawks more than 
500 varieties of mail-order seed -- from "Malawi Gold" to "Afghan Dream" to 
"Nepalese Grizzly" -- out of the pages of Cannabis Culture Magazine, which 
he publishes. He even markets a brand called "Ben Johnson -- good solid 
buds and a full, pungent smoke."

Seed sales, marijuana magazine publishing, and increasingly small-time pot 
smoking fit into a grey area of the law, in which no one seems to be 
certain of what's illegal and what's not. Cannabis Culture Magazine is 
widely sold on newsstands, yet the magazines are occasionally confiscated 
by police.

One commercial pot grower on the East Coast who identifies himself as 
"Jake" is a buttoned-down, 48-year-old owner of a legal manufacturing 
business with 15 employees. When he's not running his company, he's 
secretly growing outdoor cannabis crops, with the help of a handful of 
workers, on dozens of hectares of Crown-owned and private logging land in 
the wilds of the Maritimes. He says two-thirds of his own income comes from 
marijuana sales.

"People would be staggered if they knew how many doctors, dentists, 
accountants and even judges smoke pot," says Jake, who vows he'd sell his 
legitimate business in a heartbeat, and turn full time to growing marijuana 
- -- happily paying taxes on his product -- if only Ottawa would legalize the 

He says legalization and government regulation of the distribution and 
consumption networks would force crime gangs out of the marijuana game, and 
allow producers like himself to cultivate and sell their crops without 
skulking around in secrecy.

"It makes no sense to me," he says. "I can legally marry a man in Canada 
today. But I can't smoke a joint."

Alan Young, the Toronto law professor who has crusaded for years in the 
courts for legal access to marijuana, particularly for medicinal users, 
says there are probably more pot smokers in Canada than gay people, but 
gays have had more success moving their agenda forward -- on issues such as 
same-sex marriage -- because the gay movement is well organized and well 

Until marijuana activists get their act together, he says, they're unlikely 
to change the system.

"There are probably a dozen activist marijuana groups in the country but 
they've never been able to work together," says Young. "The current 
activists don't have a voice because they are penniless and they are not 
leaders in the community. I have had occasion to indulge in this habit with 
leaders of business, police and the judiciary. Until some of these people 
come forward, this movement won't have real political influence in this 

Canada's police chiefs are vocal, well respected and well organized 
opponents of legalizing marijuana.

"We are morally bound to fight this fight," argues Durham Regional Police 
Chief Kevin McAlpine, who also co-chairs the organized crime committee of 
the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

McAlpine says he isn't convinced by the fact that cannabis use, although 
widespread, is far less of a drain on the public health system than the 
effects of alcohol or tobacco.

The Senate reported in 2002 that the social and economic costs of cannabis 
use are "minimal -- no deaths, few hospitalizations and little loss of 

No matter, says McAlpine. "It's our view that marijuana is not harmless. As 
for the legalization issue, I haven't yet heard anybody telling me how our 
American friends would react or how we'd stop the flow of Canadian 
marijuana across the border. Legalization is just not a mature debate at 
this point."

RCMP Chief Supt. Raf Souccar says he doesn't know if the marijuana war can 
be won, but he is certain it should continue.

"This talk about legalization is very cynical," he says. "What are we going 
to legalize next -- break and enters, rapes and murders? We can't give up, 
we have to fight smarter, and harder."

Cannabis Culture's Dana Larsen says throughout history Canada has showed 
the U.S. how to liberalize its society. He predicts it will do so again 
with marijuana.

"Canada has always led America toward greater social liberties. We led them 
on ending slavery, we led them on ending the prohibition on alcohol, and 
we'll lead them towards ending the prohibition on marijuana. I'm sure I'll 
see it in my lifetime."

- - - -


Number of marijuana users: 2.3 million

Annual marijuana consumption: 770,000 kilograms

Annual marijuana production: 2.6 million kilograms

Amount of domestic production consumed in Canada: 30 per cent

Number of growing operations (personal use and commercial): 215,000

Number of people employed in marijuana growing: 500,000

Price of an ounce (29 grams) of top-grade, AAA marijuana, the equivalent of 
20-50 joints: $250

Annual number of reported arrests for offences covering all illegal drugs: 

Number of reported marijuana offences in 1999: 35,000

Number of reported marijuana offences in 2001 (70 per cent possession, 16 
per cent trafficking, 13 per cent cultivation, one per cent importation): 

Percentage of population (ages 12-64) that has used marijuana at least once: 30

Number of youths aged 12-17 who use it daily: 225,000

Average age of introduction to marijuana: 15

Percentage of regular marijuana users at risk of developing dependency: 
5-10 per cent

Substance abuse costs associated with all illegal drugs: $1.4 billion.

Of alcohol: $7.5 billion

Of tobacco: $9.6 billion

Annual cost of enforcing the marijuana laws for courts and police: $500 million

Sources: 2002 Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs; 
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; Marijuana Party of Canada; Marc Emery, 
Vancouver, B.C.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom