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Newshawk: Mister Farmer
Pubdate: Mon, 03 Sep 2001
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.


It always makes a good picture -- burly police officers dragging armloads of marijuana out of a cornfield.

The one that appeared on the front page of my local newspaper the other day showed a Cobourg police officer, a big grin on his face, with a huge pile of marijuana slung over one shoulder.

The one on Page 7 of The Sun on Friday showed another Cobourg police officer also loaded down with dope.  In another shot, he's seen leaving his business card in the field for the growers to find -- a little bit of cop humour there.

The haul, gathered over two days last week, was worth $3.1 million -- by far the largest the Cobourg police had ever laid its hands on, according to Sgt.  David Cromish.  It was one heck of a big pile of dope.

Pictures of cops gleefully seizing huge quantities of marijuana have become a staple of summer in southern Ontario.  It's good publicity for the police to be seen cracking down on crime.  It lets the taxpayers know they're getting their money's worth.

And the cops always seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughly while they do it.  Well, why not? All that fresh air and sunshine, plus a little walk in the country -- not a bad job on a warm summer day.  And in the end, they had a nice haul of 1,247 marijuana plants found tucked under bushes and in between rows of corn at seven different sites outside Cobourg.

But it was a tad ironic that the seizures came the same day the head of the Canadian police Association said police have just about given up charging anyone with possession of marijuana.  "In real terms, the police in this country don't spend resources or time or energy focused on the individual who has one or two joints in his pocket," Grant Obst said in an interview with the Canadian Press at the association's annual conference in Quebec City.

Obst said he'd rather see money spent on tracking down the gangs that profit from drugs than the users.  But the association admits money and resources aren't plentiful and police simply don't have the money to do the job the way it needs to be done.

Cobourg Police will tell you that it didn't cost them anything to call in the Durham Regional Police helicopter to conduct the search since they have a services-sharing agreement with Durham Region -- they transport inmates to Cobourg's Brookside young offenders' centre for Durham Region, and in return, they get the use of the helicopter and other resources on occasion.

But it certainly couldn't have been cheap to have a helicopter on call for two days, along with a couple of spotters in the sky and a group of officers on the ground to do the harvesting.  From the Bell helicopter with the doors removed, officers are capable of spotting one plant or 500.  Only a fraction of the amount they found last week would have been located without the helicopter's assistance.

But that, of course, was only the crop spotted in one small Ontario township.  Durham Police have seized $2.7 million worth of marijuana so far this season and they expect to get more.  So you have to wonder just how much is out there in all the places that won't be searched.  The numbers would be alarming if anyone was willing to be alarmed by it any more.

Only a few weeks ago, officers attending a meeting of the National Association of Professional Police, agreed the message being sent out on marijuana these days is confusing, not to mention frustrating.  In the last few months there have been more and more calls for loosening or even abandonment of Canada's marijuana laws, from such varied sources as Progressive Conservative party Leader Joe Clark, Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin and the head of the national police chiefs association among others.

"We're not getting a clear message and that's frustrating," said one police officer.

At the same meeting, Tom Stamatakis, head of the Vancouver police union, told Canadian Press the city has about 7,000 marijuana "growing ops" and there's little political will to shut them down.

"You could walk in Vancouver and just smell the marijuana in any neighbourhood," said Stamatakis.

So isn't this getting to be a bit silly? Aren't we wasting police time and taxpayers' money here? It doesn't make a dent in the supply and hardly anyone cares anyway.

There's a Senate committee on illegal drug use, chaired by Senator Nolin, which will be reporting next summer.  So perhaps, when it comes to marijuana, maybe the war on drugs is just about over.

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