Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

August 3, 2008 -- Chronicle Herald (CN NS)

Column: Dumb Drug Policies Enrich Criminals

By Silver Donald Cameron

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WHO WOULD have thought that cavalier lending practices in the U.S. Sunbelt would damage the second-largest industry in British Columbia?

No, I'm not talking about forestry and lumber. I'm talking about dope. BC Business magazine reckons that marijuana production in B.C. contributes $7.5 billion and 250,000 jobs to the province's GDP -- second only to construction, and more than forestry.

Most of the product is exported to the United States. The RCMP estimate that marijuana is being grown in about 20,000 B.C. homes, not to mention sizable farms in the Interior and large-scale commercial operations in former warehouses and industrial buildings. One academic study concluded that if marijuana in B.C. were legalized, the province would see $5 billion in additional legal business activity and could collect $2 billion in taxes.

The ranks of British Columbia marijuana producers have also broadened remarkably. Cannabis cultivation is no longer the exclusive preserve of organized crime, though organized crime certainly continues to thrive in the fetid netherworld of prohibition. Today, however, marijuana production has become a sideline for thousands of otherwise law-abiding middle-class citizens.

As a recent BBC report put it, "Much of the revenue derived from B.C. Bud, as the cannabis crop is known, goes on paying college fees, perhaps buying a second car or making that holiday to the Caribbean just a little bit more affordable." As a result, "the trade is so large that the police in B.C. are faced with an impossible task."

Indeed they are, and the job is getting harder. The RCMP drug section in Greater Vancouver once employed more than 100 officers; it's now down to 60. The number of tips they receive about grow-ops has also fallen, from 615 in September 2003 to 207 last December.

Does that mean that the number of grow-ops has fallen? Probably it has, says Tony Emery, a leading cannabis advocate and leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party.

For one thing, the rising Canadian dollar has hurt the competitiveness of B.C. Bud, just as it has hurt filmmakers, the forest industries and furniture manufacturers.

In addition, the downturn in the U.S. economy has induced many Americans to try their hand at growing their own pot. Marijuana plantations have been turning up in the national forests, while laid-off workers and homeowners facing foreclosure have been converting their basements and spare rooms into grow-ops. Even a tiny operation using only a couple of high-intensity lights can earn $20,000 a year for the owner -- in cash, and tax-free.

"It certainly is enough to tide people over, no problem," Emery says, "and two lights are not going to get you into trouble, either."

So there you have it. Predatory and foolhardy lending practices in the United States lead to a wave of foreclosures. Wary consumers stop buying. Workers get laid off. Desperate for cash, the victims of the downturn try their hand at illicit agriculture. At the same time, the rising loonie makes B.C. Bud less competitive, so Canadian growers find their markets contracting.

What's so striking about this story is that it really is not a story about crime and the law. It's a business story, and almost all accounts of the situation treat it that way. In theory this whole industry is illegal, but in practice it's so big that the police can't even begin to control it. Any serious attempt to enforce the law would require an army of police officers and gobble up so much public money that governments would almost have to abandon such other concerns as health care and education.

So the business is completely unregulated and the only controls on it are the controls the market itself imposes. As with any business, unfavourable market conditions affect the industry. Adverse exchange rates and increased competition drive prices down and eliminate marginal producers.

Nevertheless, the market is huge and hungry. It reaches into every social class and every age group, though a recent study from the University of Alberta apparently revealed that marijuana is particularly popular among educated, middle-class Canadians. Do they wish to break the law? Probably not. But do they think this law deserves to be obeyed? Obviously not.

In short, the law has essentially made itself irrelevant. If anything, the law benefits the business. To a large extent, the industry is profitable precisely because it is illegal. All entrepreneurs take risks, but if the risks include jail time, only the boldest entrepreneurs will enter the business -- and they'll demand a premium for the extra risk.

The net result of our irrational drug policies is that we enrich the criminals and criminalize ordinary citizens. We control tobacco and alcohol far more effectively than we control any illegal drugs. If those are the results we want, these policies are perfect.

Silver Donald Cameron's columns for The NovaScotian appear online at

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact