Experts Don't Agree on Marijuana Grow Op Problem

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 26, 2002.

  1. By Robert Freeman
    Source: Chilliwack Progress

    Defence lawyers – who stand to gain most from a crackdown on marijuana grow operations – are lambasting Chilliwack's get-tough response to grow-ops here. And even the authors of a University College of the Fraser Valley report on marijuana grow operations in B.C. disagree on how best to deal with the problem.
    “We've tried and spent a whole lot of money to eliminate the supply of the stuff and it doesn't work,” says Yvon Dandurand, head of the UCFV criminology department. “It's time to try something new.”

    But exactly what, he isn't sure.

    “If we were to decriminalize or legalize or regulate ... then we would still have to worry about the huge black market south of the border,” he says. “There's no easy solution.”

    But he suggests one thing that could be done is direct police resources more toward the organizers of the network feeding on the huge black market demand for marijuana.

    “There is a high level of organization,” to the B.C. grow-ops, he says, “but not organized in the sense we traditionally think of it.”

    “If you're looking for a kingpin you may not find one, but a network of people,” he says.

    UCFV Professor Darryl Plecas, who co-authored the study, says the findings show marijuana grow-ops are clearly not “mom and pop” operations growing a couple of pot plants for a second income.

    And the phenomenal growth recorded by the study shows that the profit-making enterprise in B.C. is “outstripping the capacity of police to respond,” he says.

    Most of the 8,010 cases of marijuana grow-operations found by police between January 1997 and December 2000 came as a result of anonymous tips and of searches on other criminal matters, not police investigations.

    “The police aren't going out of way to get these grow-ops, but tripping over them or getting anonymous complaints,” Professor Plecas says.

    Tougher court sentences in B.C. may be the key to driving grow-ops out of business, he says.

    “There are no grow-ops to speak of in Washington State,” he points out, “because the penalties are so severe, why would anybody risk it.”

    Prison sentences were imposed by B.C. judges in only 18 percent of the cases, with an average length of 4.5 months, according to the study. Half the suspects in B.C. grow-ops walk away without any conviction at all, and more than half of those had prior drug convictions. Forty percent had violent offences on their record.

    “The notion that they are mom and pop operations going on in Chilliwack is just not true,” Prof. Plecas says.

    He also notes that the convicted pot growers in B.C. had seven convictions on record, sometimes for multiple counts of marijuana production, but “no incremental penalties for prior convictions” imposed by court judges.

    He says that only encourages growers to plant larger and larger operations after a conviction brings no larger punishment. And the $130,000 income from one grow operation, with the potential for three grows a year, is incentive enough for anyone with no prospect of higher earnings by legal means.

    “All of a sudden, you're making pretty good coin,” Prof. Plecas says.

    However, he does not believe that decriminalization or legalization would significantly alter the grow-op situation because of the “incredible market” for B.C. pot around the world.

    Even if a standard marijuana product was legalized, he believes there would still be a black market for strains of marijuana with boosted THC levels that would not be tolerated even by governments that had legalized its use.

    “The only thing I would say on the positive side of the ledger (of the UCFV study),” he says, “is that there's hardly any incidents of violence at the time when the police show up” to take down a grow-op.

    Chilliwack City and RCMP officials have announced formation of a “strike force” of four officers dedicated to busting marijuana grow-ops, and directing more plainclothes and uniformed officers to drug enforcement duties.

    But defence lawyer John Conroy says taking the profit out of black market enterprises like marijuana grow-ops by legalizing or regulating the product like government do with alcohol and tobacco is the only way to deal with the problem.

    “We just can't get it through the thick skulls of the people in power,” he says.

    “Why don't they prohibit alcohol and tobacco, which are far more harmful,” he says. Canadian courts have found as found as a fact that there is “no significant” harm to smoking marijuana, he adds.

    “The police want this (tougher enforcement) because it helps expand their power to intrude into peoples' private affairs,” he suggests.

    “The whole thing is ludicrous,” he adds, because it is the law criminalizing marijuana that creates the black market that the grow-ops feed on.

    He says the only danger of the grow-ops is that they are forced to operate underground, without safety inspections, because of the law.

    But the police see enforcement as the only answer because they get to “snoop around” neighbourhoods with their infra-red devices seeking the heat generated by grow-ops, Mr. Conroy says.

    “It's more fun,” he suggests, than investigating the disappearance of native women from the wrong side of Vancouver streets.

    “It's absurd. The whole drug war is just a crock of absolute nonsense.”

    Defence lawyer Suzanne Paterson says she is not surprised by the Chilliwack RCMP's request for additional resources as a result of the study findings.

    “This is a new (RCMP) inspector and very quickly he has enlarged his kingdom,” she says, adding that the $160,000 now earmarked for two more RCMP officers could be better spent on shelter and activities for children in Chilliwack.

    She also disputes Insp. Mercer's warning about violence around marijuana grow-ops.

    “I do a lot of cases with violence, but I can't think of one that's associated with pot growing,” she says.

    There have been two drive-by shootings in Chilliwack, both of them in 1996, and neither directly related to marijuana grow-operations. Keitha Joan Llewellyn, 59, was shot to death in her Tretheway Avenue home in March 1996, and 31-year-old Gary Autenreith was shot and killed while standing in a front window of his Hazel Street home the same month. The two shootings were not related.

    Psychologist Rob Lees fears increased enforcement could backfire and drive the price of pot up further making grow-ops “more risky” than ever for the general public.

    “If you stack marijuana up against tobacco or alcohol, there aren't many people around who would say it's worse,” says Mr. Lees, who advocated marijuana decriminalization as an election candidate for the New Democratic Party.

    He says Chilliwack City and RCMP officials may be focusing too tightly on the local picture and “making the assumption, if you try and limit the supply then it will stop people from using a substance.”

    But he says the experience of addiction counsellors, where a supply is limited, “the addiction goes elsewhere” and no real solution achieved.

    He says the goal of child psychologists is “resilient kids making healthy choices” rather than children fearing harsh punishment for breaking the rules.

    Source: Chilliwack Progress (CN BC)
    Author: Robert Freeman
    Published: June 25, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 The Chilliwack Progress

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