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Disclosure wanted on medical marijuana

Sep 25 2012

Commercial marijuana growops masquerading as medical grow operations are a growing problem for B.C. municipalities, a panel of experts debating decriminalization was told Monday.

"It's very prevalent in my community. Those are the grow-ops and they're under the disguise of medical marijuana operations," Sechelt Coun. Doug Hockley told an expert panel at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention in Victoria.

Hockley said RCMP are not informed when a medical marijuana grow licence is issued by the federal government.

"Consequently, our firstresponders, whether they be fire or whether they be police, are walking into a situation where they have no idea of what's going on in that house because they can't get the information," Hockley said during a question-and-answer session.

"It's incumbent on the federal government to impose stringent regulations," he said.

Darryl Plecas, RCMP university research chair in crime reduction at University College of the Fraser Valley's School of Criminology, argued against decriminalization of marijuana.

Plecas called Health Canada's treatment of medical marijuana "a gong show," and said Health Canada does not have a single inspector of medical grow operations in B.C.

"They have de facto decriminalized grow-ops in Canada. There's just no question about that," Plecas said.

Panel members seemed to agree existing marijuana laws are not working, but disagreed on the solution.

Dr. Evan Wood, of Stop the Violence B.C., argued in favour of decriminalization and regulation of marijuana, saying prohibition hasn't worked.

"Because it is a commodity like any other, any effort to reduce the supply of it will have the perverse effect of incentivizing new suppliers," he said.

"If you support prohibition, you essentially support a violent, unregulated market whose motive is profit - and that's why its market is young people. We don't know what regulation will look like, but it will be researched and it will be so much better than the status quo," Wood said.

But Plecas, along with Sgt. Dave Williams of the RCMP drug enforcement branch and Pat Slack, commander of the Snohomish regional drug and gang task force in Washington state, pointed out that marijuana is traded internationally. Because of that, they said, decriminalizing possession would not stop gang violence on B.C. streets.

The black market for marijuana would not disappear if possession were decriminalized, Plecas said.

"We don't have violence because people are using marijuana," he said. "Our problem with gangs and violence in B.C. is related to the production of marijuana and the export of marijuana."

An estimated 585,000 people in B.C. consume about 83,900 kilograms of marijuana a year. But B.C. is producing 680,400 kilograms a year, Plecas said.

"Seventy per cent, minimum, is exported to the United States - and that's where the violence comes."

Geoff Plant, a lawyer and former B.C. attorney general, said there appears to be growing consensus that the status quo is a failure.

"I think we have to rid ourselves [of] the legacy of this multi-generational fixation with 'reefer madness,' " Plant said. "And we need to work collaboratively with public policy makers on both sides of the border towards a regime that's based on regulation and taxation, rather than criminalization."

Later this week, delegates to the convention will debate a motion put forward by Metchosin to decriminalize marijuana and research its regulation and taxation.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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