Decriminalization of possessing small amounts of pot will have little effect
in Vancouver, since the city already has "de facto decriminalization," says
the head of the city's drug squad.

Commenting on the bill to be introduced later this week by the federal
justice department, Insp. Kash Heed said he's more concerned about stopping
the proliferation of marijuana grow operations than issuing a fine to
someone caught with a small quantity of marijuana.

"I don't think it's anything we're going to get overly excited about," Heed
said.

Under the new bill, those caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana would
be ticketed rather than charged criminally.

The amount of the fine hasn't been released, but it's not expected to reach
the $500-to-$1,000 tab often levied against operators of grow ops.

News of the bill comes as no surprise to Heed, who made a presentation to
the Senate special committee on illegal drugs in November 2001. At the time,
his pro-decriminalization views raised eyebrows in police circles, Heed
recalls.

"I was considered 'out there.'"

He told the committee that total prohibition of marijuana has resulted in
costly enforcement, little deterrence in supply and minimal deterrence of
use. Because of that, Vancouver police have concentrated on chasing
cultivators and sellers of marijuana.

"I am not alone when I go on record in support of the removal of criminal
penalties from small private possession of cannabis as a means of reducing
the economic costs of law enforcement, and the social costs of arresting
people who are otherwise not criminally involved," Heed wrote.

"The effectiveness of the present policy for prohibiting the use of cannabis
falls far from its goal of preventing use. It can no longer be argued that
the use of cannabis would be much more widespread and the challenging
effects greater today, if prohibition did not exist."

Last year, police busted about 475 grow-ops in Vancouver and seized $97
million worth of marijuana. In most cases, the suspects arrested in the
houses were tied to some form of organized crime, including biker and
Vietnamese gangs.

The new bill will also include stiffer penalties for marijuana grow
operators, but Heed said the current seven-year maximum prison sentence
isn't what needs to be changed-it's having judges apply the sentences.

Although putting dealers behind bars is important, Heed says Canada's drug
strategy needs an overhaul, considering only six per cent of its budget is
spent on reducing demand for drugs.

The new bill, he said, is expected to be introduced alongside a revamped
drug strategy that involves spending millions on drug education and
prevention. Reflecting on his presentation to the Senate committee, Heed
believes his words might have had an effect on lawmakers.

Or, he said, they may have been moved to act because the marijuana problem
has now spread across the country, exposing eastern provinces to something
B.C. has been dealing with for several years.

"It seems that when the marijuana issue went east of the Rockies, it became
a problem."


Pubdate: Wed, 14 May 2003
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Courier
Contact: editor@vancourier.com
Website: http://www.vancourier.com/