Unless it's prepared to bolster police resources, the federal government
should consider legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana, says the
sergeant in charge of a Vancouver police drug squad.

Sgt. Rollie Woods, a 29-year veteran of policing, said with only six
full-time officers dedicated to busting marijuana grow-ops in the city, the
illegal industry will never be curtailed. "You might as well look at trying
to take out the profit by legalizing and regulating it and giving people
that want it what they want, and perhaps using the tax revenue to benefit
all of society," said Woods, who estimates the city is home to up to 10,000
grow-ops.

When police do bust operators of grow-ops, he said, growers often end up
facing a fine or a conditional sentence. Many times, police then catch the
convicted grower starting up another operation.

Pointing to the United States' so-called War on Drugs, he noted that even
the combined power of the military, Coast Guard, the Alcohol Tobacco and
Firearms unit and thousands of cops is having little effect on the drug
problem.

Despite its harsher penalties for drug operators, Woods said the U.S.
continues to be a thriving market for all types of drugs, including B.C.
marijuana, which sells for $6,000 US a pound in Los Angeles and other parts
of California.

In Vancouver, marijuana sells for about $2,500 a pound. Last year alone,
Vancouver police busted about 475 grow-ops and seized enough marijuana-$97
million worth-to put a decent bid on the bankrupt Ottawa Senators hockey team.

Two years ago, police busted about 650 grow-ops. Woods believes last year's
decrease can be attributed mainly to the aggressive work of GrowBusters,
the six-member police team responsible for ridding neighbourhoods of the
indoor bud farms.

However, Woods acknowledges police have simply pushed the problem into the
suburbs and Fraser Valley, where the Organized Crime Association has
discovered Vancouver residents growing marijuana in barns and bunkers.

Almost two years ago, police had a list of about 700 known grow-ops in the
city. They have since cut that list to about 30, but that doesn't mean
there are fewer operations, he said.

Growers are simply getting more sophisticated at concealing their
operations-using better ventilation and filtration systems to mask the
skunky smell of the weed and building false fronts in windows to give the
appearance the house is being lived in.

"I definitely think the growers are keeping their heads down and if you
talk to community police stations, they seem to be getting fewer tips,"
Woods said.

NDP MP Libby Davies, whose riding of Vancouver East is a hot spot for
grow-ops, agrees marijuana has to be regulated but noted the Canadian
Association of Chiefs of Police doesn't want Canada's drug laws "softened."

Davies said she understands police frustration with investigating drug
operators under the current legal system, but believes adding more
resources is a waste of money. She echoed Woods' example of the failed War
on Drugs in the United States.

Davies recently participated in Parliament's special committee on the
non-medical use of drugs, which recommended that possession and cultivation
of small amounts of marijuana be decriminalized. Davies criticized the
committee's failure to address the problem of people who have criminal
records for simple possession or for transfer or cultivation of small
amounts of pot.

"If we accept that Canadians should not in future receive a criminal record
for certain acts relating to marijuana, those convicted in the past should
be pardoned under a general amnesty and their records erased," she wrote in
a report to her constituents.


Pubdate: January 22, 2003
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Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell