HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Meet The Marijuana User Next Door
Pubdate: Sat, 12 Nov 2005
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2005 Southam Inc.
Author: Gigi Suhanic
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Surprise: The Rank And File Of Canada's Multi-Billion-Dollar Pot Industry
Look A lot Like You And Me

Ever wondered how your neighbours managed to afford that Land Rover or
the cash to cover their kids' private school tuition? Maybe they have
a sideline: a secret, subterranean income booster in the form of a
marijuana grow operation.

To some that might sound scandalous, while others might wonder why
they hadn't thought of it themselves.

Regardless of your reaction, according to Ian Mulgrew, the author of
Bud Inc., a colourful journalistic narrative of Canada's marijuana
industry, basement grow ops are flourishing in nice, middle class
neighbourhoods from coast to coast. The growers tend to supply
themselves and a few friends; the weed they sell takes the edge off
the daily grind, and their monthly expenses, as well.

"You can buy a little mini grow op downtown in some of the stores here
[in Vancouver] that's really a little light box, and you can stick it
in the corner and it will keep you well supplied. It's a little
mortgage helper," Mr. Mulgrew says in an interview on the eve of the
launch of his new book, which appears in stores today.

Marijuana is a multi-billion-dollar industry in Canada. In Bud Inc.
Mr. Mulgrew cites an expert source at the Fraser Institute, a
conservative think-tank, who estimates the retail sale of weed
(assuming pricing at the top end of the scale) is worth about
$19.5-billion in Canada. That's based on 2003 figures, the most recent
numbers available.

Use of pot is widespread, and not just by slacker youth and ageing
hippies. Last year the late Pierre Burton offered televised "toking
tips" on Rick Mercer's Monday Report.

And the 48-year-old Mr. Mulgrew, who is the legal affairs columnist
for the Vancouver Sun, openly admits, "I occasionally have a reefer. I
go out with a woman who doesn't particularly like the smell of pot. I
certainly don't smoke marijuana the way I did some days when I was off
with some of these people I was writing about, where you are a bit of
a chimney. If somebody offers me a reefer at a party, sure I'll have a

He finds that pot takes the "edge off the world around me in much the
same way a really nice single-malt scotch or a nice Cognac or glass of
red wine does. And I indulge in those, too."

But Mr. Mulgrew doesn't want talk of his book to degenerate into a
puerile snigger-fest.

"One of the problems [with] talking about marijuana -- it's a bit like
talking about masturbation. It's tough to do without people

He sees the book as a platform for discussing what he sees as
antiquated and unworkable marijuana laws: In Canada, except for the
roughly 800 individuals who have permission from Health Canada to use
marijuana for medicinal purposes, pot is illegal.

At the same time, he does not want readers to interpret his book as a
paean to the benefits of pot.

"[Through the book] I'm advocating that people take a really good look
at the public policy we have right now and the damage it's doing to
our communities, the danger it's posing to our children because we
don't have good drug education, and the corrosive effect it's having
on people's faith in institutions like the justice system and the
police, and the boon it is to organized crime. That's what I hope the
book forces people to do," Mr. Mulgrew says.

While the federal government appears to be leaning toward
decriminalization, Mr. Mulgrew thinks legalization is the way to go to
kill organized crime's involvement with marijuana.

But he doesn't let his book get bogged down by lofty objectives. He
calls it a "guided tour through that world, which, although everyone
says is subterranean, and in a certain aspect it is, is right before
our eyes everywhere and in particular in British Columbia. You really
have to play the three monkeys, be deaf, dumb and blind not to see
what is happening," he says.

And it is a good read. Simply put, some of the players in Canada's
marijuana industry are fascinating. There's Michael Straumietis, a
six-foot-eight American who came into Canada under a false identity to
avoid marijuana manufacturing charges back home.

Mr. Straumietis, a member of Mensa and a Mason, then turned around
and, with two partners, founded Advanced Nutrients. The British
Columbia-based company produces "more than 100 different products for
cannabis cultivation and has the largest network of medical marijuana
grow operations in Canada."

Another player who goes by the moniker Watermelon is a habitue of
Vancouver's nudist Wreck Beach and was busted for selling pot cookies
- -- her slogan is, " 'my business is rolling in dough.' " While
Watermelon's business is small potatoes compared with some of the
characters in Bud Inc., her case and the fact she managed to beat
charges of peddling cannabis resin are illustrative of the legal
quagmire marijuana laws in Canada have created -- one where the
courts, at least in British Columbia are reluctant to mete out jail
sentences, according to Mr. Mulgrew.

"The courts could fill the prisons tomorrow [with marijuana
convictions]. Who is going to be served by imprisoning a bunch of
middle-class Canadians who thought they would grow a little dope to
make a little money to buy a house, and otherwise are law-abiding,
income-earning ordinary people?

"That's by and large who is appearing before [the courts]."

During the two years he researched and wrote Bud Inc., Mr. Mulgrew got
an intimate look at the lives of pot advocates, growers and sellers.
Though he is onside with legalization and makes clear the current laws
are senseless, he is dispassionate enough to paint warts-and-all
portraits of many of the players.

Advanced Nutrients' Mr. Straumietis, who was eventually forced to
leave Canada because he entered under an assumed name, was refused a
discharge by a judge who noted "when [Mr. Straumietis] was arrested in
2001, he possessed a quantity of other false identification documents:
for example, driver's licences with his photograph in five other
names, and American social security cards in three other names."

The upshot is that many of Bud Inc.'s characters aren't poster
children for legalization.

In the book's latter chapters, Mr. Mulgrew records lawyer John Conroy,
who represents many pot advocates in Canada, as saying he "feels
[Canadians] need a period of desensitization so that people can become
more disinterested in what happens with the herb. But this has to
happen, he added, because the criminal law is not working."

Mr. Mulgrew also introduces readers to members of the medical
marijuana community, some of whom run compassion societies for people
who use marijuana to treat the symptoms of chronic and, in some cases,
terminal diseases. He and others believe the case for medical
marijuana will elevate the debate about pot laws in Canada, and
elevate it to a new legal realm.

Either sensing or hoping for a new future for marijuana, Canadian
media mogul Moses Znaimer and two other partners created the company
Cannasat, which has the end goal of manufacturing new marijuana-based

Legalized or not, pot can't be stopped. While British Columbia is the
epicentre of activism and production, Mr. Mulgrew writes that "in
Ontario, the harvest has grown by an estimated 250% in the past two

"Think about it. [Marijuana] grows really quickly. You can get
sometimes four harvests a year. The appetite is huge for it. You can
get it anywhere, anytime. That's why everyone is into it. You don't
need a lot of expertise to make a dollar at it."
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