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Toronto Star April 1, 2005. Page 4 of GTA section

Pot activists sound off at meeting
Police heckled at presentation

Assembly called to address grow ops


A town hall meeting about illegal marijuana grow ops in Scarborough grew heated last night when activists supporting the legalization of cannabis challenged the information being presented by a parade of local politicians and police.

"This is becoming a joke," the exasperated moderator, a high school vice-principal, snapped at one point. One person heckled a presentation by drug squad Staff Insp. Dan Hayes as he warned of the potential dangers of grow ops and urged the standing-room-only crowd in a Scarborough church to push politicians for stiffer penalties for indoor pot growers who get caught.

The majority of grow ops Toronto police are uncovering are in Scarborough, where more than half of the 320 grow operations raided by police in 41 and 42 Divisions in 2004 were located, he said.

Other speakers included Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) who said one unanticipated effect of grow ops is a revival of community spirit to fight them, while Bas Balkissoon (Ward 41, Scarborough Rouge-River) urged residents to "be nosy ...

"Don't be nice to your neighbour," Balkissoon said. "It's the only way we're going to drive them (grow ops) out of our area."

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter said his government's "first step" in combatting indoor grow ops began yesterday with a second-reading debate on a proposed law that will, among other things, require building inspections of all homes after police have confirmed a grow op location.

After several outbursts, pot activist Dominic Cramer was given two minutes to make his pitch.

He said that while his organization does not support illegal grow ops, law enforcement and politicians are using scare tactics and lies to create hysteria about grow ops while ignoring prohibition's impact on their spiralling number. Only a regulated market and legalization will curb the proliferation, he told the crowd.

Others had questions. A high school student named Mike wanted to know why last night's emphasis was on the "supply."

"I was wondering what you guys are doing to focus on the demand for this (pot), because that's probably where the problems are starting," he said.

None of the panellists responded immediately.

MP Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough-Agincourt) said he organized the meeting to give his constituents a chance to learn more about the problem of marijuana grow operations, to help them learn what to look for and to understand the importance of reporting their concerns directly to the police.

Last month, police criticized Karygiannis and Toronto Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), who also addressed the crowd, for conducting their own door-to-door crusade to weed out grow ops in Scarborough.

My few minutes on the mic:

"Hi, my name's Dominic Cramer and I'm here representing a group of concerned Canadian citizens including doctors, lawyers, police officers and other very upstanding folks, a group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML Canada.

We too are here because we don't want commercial farming operations of any kind operating clandestinely in residential neighbourhoods.

However, unlike too many of our leaders, we actually pay close attention to the facts, the research, the expensive reports of committees like the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs.

Unfortunately, meetings like this one and far too many media reports are riddled with misinformation and unwise generalizations.

For instance, Councilor Del Grande, with all due respect, misleads you when he attempts to connect random gun violence with marijuana farming. What does his 'magic bullet' have to do with cannabis? Nothing!

Also, the officer who claimed that there is no grow-op problem in the United States is hugely mistaken. According to the RCMP, only 2% of marijuana smoked in the States comes from Canada. MOST is grown within the States and the rest imported from places like Mexico.

A recent RCMP report on grow ops in B.C. showed "dangers" are rarely encountered. The police often voice concerns of "booby traps" yet the report shows only 2% of busted grow-ops were even slightly booby-trapped.

Another police report, "Green Tide," stated there has never been an explosion in a grow op in Ontario and yet we continually hear about the dangers of grow op explosions.

But the biggest lie is that sentences are not tough enough. Mandatory minimum sentences would be an enormous mistake.

We see clearly that our leaders and law enforcement have completely and unavoidably failed to reasonably address this problem, that 80 years of marijuana prohibition have only served to make this problem worse.

And we're sadly forgetting about the hundreds, no, thousands, of legitimate medicinal cannabis users who are told by our government to go home and grow their own medicine.

Yes, let's get rid of dangerous grow-ops, but let's not scare people into thinking that all cannabis gardens are dangerous.

Cannabis prohibition, just like alcohol prohibition, does not work and will never work.

Prohibiting cannabis pushes the market underground, inflates prices, and attracts organized crime.

Cannabis prohibition has not accomplished its goals. It's time to try a different approach.

In a legal, regulated market cannabis could be sold in a manner similar to wine. Growers would be licensed and subject to inspection. They would not be by-passing hydro in your residential neighbourhoods.

Police and politicians are doing the public a disservice by promoting the idea that enforcement and harsher sentences will produce positive results. Increasing the penalties for growing cannabis will only increase the amount of organized crime involvement and therefore increase the amount of violence as well. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?

According to the Senate Special Committee, "The continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and well-being of Canadians much more than does the substance itself."

Until we seriously and honestly address the root causes of this problem, we will continue to waste huge resources while making the situation ever more unnecessarily dangerous.

Thank you for your time."

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