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CN MB: OPED: Ottawa's Cannabis Growing Pains

Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jul 2004
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2004 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Tom Ford
Note: Tom Ford is managing editor of The Issues Network


THE federal government, it appears, can't manage the growth and distribution of pot - even though it controls all key respects of the activity.

Ottawa decides what is legal in the marijuana business and what is not. In 2000, Health Canada decided to give a five-year, $5.5 million contract to Prairie Plant Systems to grow pot in an abandoned Flin Flon Manitoba mine and supply it to people who need the drug for approved medical purposes.

The company's first batch did not exactly get rave reviews. Nearly a third of those who got the government dope returned it. It was ugly, bad tasting, not strong enough and cost way too much. "High school students in a cupboard could grow a product that is better and safer," Philippe Lucas, director of Canadians for Safe Access, told Canadian Press.

This month, the company's second batch, shipped after May 21, also got some criticism. "It's no good," Marco Renda, 45, of Dundalk, Ont., told Canadian Press. "I took two puffs and I put it out. It had a chemical taste to it. It didn't taste right to me and it didn't burn properly. It had no effect."

Before we beat up too much on Prairie Plant Systems, we should admit that growing and distributing government dope involves a lot of problems.

Chief among them: no person in the marijuana operation will admit to using it. That's a big communications challenge. Brent Zettl, president of Prairie Plant Systems, tries to get around it by saying, "I know we've been tarred and feathered...but we're following the direction of Health Canada."

Mr. Zettl, however, can't promote his product like others in the happiness business. Don't expect Prime Minister Paul Martin, as chairperson of Flin Flon Gold, to give the product a ringing endorsement. There'll be no talk of "family recipes" as there is with Sleeman's beer. I don't even expect Mr. Zettl to explain in a TV ad that "it tastes terrible, but it works."

Mr. Martin can't call up some of his competitors - the Mafia, Colombian drug czars or Asian gangs who run suburban grow houses in Canada - and ask them about some of his production problems.

Testimonials are pretty much out of the picture. Just imagine Conservative leader Stephen Harper saying in an ad: "A couple of tokes of Flin Flon Gold and I forget all the problems of minority government. I even forget Ralph Klein."

Taste tests in shopping malls are a no-go. So are family tours to the production site. And the United States has made it clear that even a few export sales south of the border will result in a massive retaliation that will make it impossible for even your Granny Janet to get to Hawaii.

You won't see the name Flin Flon Gold on racing cars, car drivers' suits or the programs of cultural organizations such as the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The federal government should have known that growing marijuana is not an easy job. Years ago, it planted a plot of pot at the Central Experimental Farm near downtown Ottawa. There's so little to do in Ottawa, that cars lined up just to drive around the plot and watch marijuana grow.

In order to appear to be in charge, the feds brought in guards and attack dogs and put up a big fence.

What happened to the pot? The feds didn't know what to do with it, so they burned much of it in a field, a solution that didn't amount to much, except that it gave the farm's cows a terrific high.

The people of Flin Flon can only hope for something similar.

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