Police officers need more tools to fight the drug war, according to the
leader of Langley's Green Team, who says marijuana has grown into a much
more dangerous drug - and business venture - since the 1960s.

Cpl. Jeff Johnston, supervisor of the Langley RCMP's Green Team, doesn't
mince words when he describes just how big the marijuana growing industry
has become.

"It's totally out of control," he said "It is the number one business in
this province."

Johnston, who came to Langley 20 months ago, has been with the Mounted
Police for 14 years. He has been in drug enforcement for a decade, and
during that time has seen an astounding rise in the production and use of
pot.

"It happened so quickly. It seemed to grow over night," he said. "Ten years
ago it was a non-issue. Now it's so lucrative, it's controlled by organized
crime. We are like Colombia north."

Strong words, considering some people associate pot with the practically
harmless weed that hippies used to sit around and get high on in the 1960's.

But the drug itself has changed over four decades.

In the past, the THC level in marijuana - the substance that creates the
feeling of being high - was typically two or three per cent, said Johnston.
Now, people won't bother with marijuana unless the THC percentage is in the
high teens or low 20's.

"It's a totally different drug," said Johnston, who said the high from
smoking pot is now similar to tripping on LSD.

The increased quality of pot grown in Langley and throughout the province
has created an appetite throughout the world.

"The product is wanted," said Johnston, noting that prime local bud sells
for up to $3,000 U.S. a pound.

And the big money associated with marijuana has seen organized crime take
over the industry.

"They find out where the grow ops are and say, 'Now you're growing for us,'"
Johnston said. "Mom and pop on the streets are being orchestrated to grow
[for organized crime], and it's being exported to the U.S."

The problem, Johnston said, is serious. So much money is at stake that
countless murders, abductions, and home invasions can be attributed to the
production of marijuana.

For that reason, Johnson is against the straight-out legalization of
marijuana.

"If we say, okay, you can grow in B.C., where is it all going? To the
States. If we legalize it, we would have every single drug producer in the
U.S. coming up here to grow and smuggle it south," he said. "Our producers
would have carte blanche for a market in the U.S."

"I appreciate that people who responsibly use it want it legalized, but I
don't agree with it," Johnson said. "I've seen the correlation between crime
and drugs and it's much more violent than booze and crime."

Johnson would like to see a multi-faceted approach taken to fight the drug
war, which would use education as prevention, and introduce more laws to
help police deal with drug use when it does occur.

Right now, police officers have two options when they catch someone with
pot: they can use their discretion and seize or destroy the marijuana,
letting the user off with a warning, or they can charge them and send the
case to court - where it will often be thrown out due to backlog of cases.

"Young people need to see the consequences of their actions," said Johnson,
who favours a ticketing system that would hit people caught with marijuana
in the pocketbook.

As well, he feels pot producers should be treated as harshly by law as those
who traffic in heroine or cocaine.

"Marijuana is so controversial," he said, "but it's a drug, and it's
harmful."


Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: December 7, 2001
Source: Langley Advance (CN BC)
111-20353 64 Ave., Langley, B.C., V2Y 1N5
Fax: 604-534-3383
Copyright: 2001 Lower Mainland Publishing Group Inc.
Contact: editorial@langleyadvance.com
Website: http://www.langleyadvance.com/
Author: Erin McKay - emckay@langleyadvance.com