The Season of Busts and Harvest
The autumn cannabis harvest is in. For many farmers this is a time of celebration and thanksgiving, while for others it is a time to mourn the loss of crops destroyed by pests and thieves. Some, such as the peaceful residents of Lasqueti Island in BC, have Canada’s military to blame for their losses.
Invasion by Air and Sea
In early September, the tranquil island of Lasqueti was raided by about 20 police officers and military personnel equipped with a military helicopter, a police boat, a Zodiac inflatable boat and a truck. According to the police, the blitz yielded crops with an “estimated street value” of $1 million dollars. The police failed to mention what the raid cost taxpayers.
Many of the plots destroyed contained as few as ten to forty plants, and their owners wanted nothing more than a personal supply for the winter. Most of the 350 island residents were justifiably upset. When the military helicopter landed briefly near the island’s school, some parents yelled at the officers as students looked on. Darzo Olesko, 50, who doesn’t use or grow marijuana, said “When I stood here today, my blood was boiling. These are small operators, it’s really poverty-line people trying to make a little bit of money on the side.”
Most Canadian cannabis cultivators used cunning and camouflage to avoid similar seasonal air raids nationwide, and for them it has been a good year. “It’s probably been the best year I can remember,” said a cannabis farmer from Ontario. “A lot of my plants were taller than I am. And bushy. We’re talking high yield.”
Constable Glenn Holland of the Kingston drug squad agreed. “We’ve seized some plants that were more than eight feet tall,” says Holland. “We’re talking Christmas trees that just towered over you. All of them bushy, nothing but buds. And the potency in these plants, it’s amazing.”
‘Tis the Seizing…
Some less fortunate farmers lost more than their crops and supplemental income. Michael Jakes of Ontario lost a 115-acre property under new US-style asset forfeiture provisions granted under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The controversial provisions were originally billed as a tool to combat “fortified drug houses”.
Budget-starved police are interpreting “fortified drug house” as any property which has been “substantially modified” to facilitate illicit drug profits, including boats, planes and any belongings on or within the modified property. For Jakes, the fortified drug house was a newly-built two-storey home and assets worth about $75,000.
Larry Scott was forced to forfeit a 220-acre property, an all-terrain vehicle, a generator, power tools and cultivating implements with a total value of $100,000. Scott bought a southern Ontario property last spring for $70,000, which at the time contained an abandoned farmhouse and a barn. Scott was approached by growers who offered him $10,000 to allow a cannabis plantation on the property. During the summer, Scott built a shed to prepare and process the plants. It was this “substantial modification” of the property that allowed the forfeiture provisions to be used.
High Costs & Inflated Values
RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police said this season’s raids involving 12 officers and two helicopters across Southwestern Ontario seized 23,171 plants. Many question whether the futile raids warrant such a costly use of shrinking police resources. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” London defence lawyer Ted McGrath said. “Police say there is a connection between marijuana and hard drugs, but there is little evidence to back that up.”
“We don’t make laws, we just enforce them. We’re just doing our job,” said OPP Sgt Bob Martin. Helicopter use, overtime pay and additional expenses cost about $200,000.
With $600,000 in police salaries, the cost of the one-month investigation totaled about $800,000.
“It’s worth it. We have $7 million in drugs off the street and away from youths,” said RCMP Sgt Marty Van Doen.
Of course no Canadian, youth or adult, is going without cannabis this winter, and the “street values” police announce are grossly inflated. “Much of a marijuana plant is not usable and half its weight in the field is moisture, meaning every 45 kilograms seized from a field yields less than one pound of marijuana,” said McGrath. “In court, it is a constant debate over what the value really is.”
The Ottawa-Carleton Regional Drug squad made about 20 seizures this harvest season. In most cases, the crop was simply found and uprooted without charges being laid. “For us to spend four or five nights in the bush to catch a guy watering his plants is not really cost effective,” said squad leader Sgt Doug Wilkinson.
The Big Balloon
Richard Garlick, a spokesman for the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, says the crackdown on cannabis importation may have led to more widespread domestic growing. Garlick said zero tolerance laws in the United States and stiffer penalties make importing that much tougher and encourage domestic cultivation. “It’s like pushing on a balloon,” said Garlick. “If you push on one side, another side only expands.”