Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Author: Richard Foot, CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, March 04, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: [email protected]
Canadians will consume roughly 2,100 kilograms of marijuana today.
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 of 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 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?" asks 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 about."
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 "grow-ops" owned by biker gangs, Asian syndicates and other organized crime groups.
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 criminal 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 is not 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 grow-ops with a co-ordinated effort from power 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.
CANADIANS & MARIJUANA
FRIDAY: Edmonton's Emily Murphy is widely credited with, or blamed for, initiating Canada's prohibition on pot 80 years ago.
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