For some readers of Cannabis Culture magazine, the Vancouver-based international journal for pot users and growers, the deaths of four RCMP officers was a trauma of another sort. “For anyone that grows their own, this is a total tragedy,” said one contributor to the magazine’s online forum. “Shit they’ll start sending the army in now!” Another went so far as to call James Roszko, the dead gunman, a martyr. “I will pray for him for every day of the rest of my life.”
Such inflammatory responses were the minority, even on a site not noted for sympathy toward police. “We are all victims together in this drug war, including the families of the people who died today,” wrote Sinshune. “The law is the enemy of both sides, our enemy because it threatens jail for us, and the enemy of the police who are forced to risk their lives to uphold it. Some said the deaths will hurt the cause of legalization, others that they prove the futility of pot laws. “The reason pot is worth more than its weight in gold is because of prohibition, this makes prohibition look bad,” wrote one.
The deaths have shaken many British Columbians who, to the frustration of police, often take a benign view of an industry estimated to generate more than $6 billion a year in the province. The number of B.C. grow ops is estimated at 15,000 – ranging from residential mortgage-helpers to sophisticated gang-run operations. Provincial Solicitor General Rich Coleman, a former RCMP member, urged the federal government to stiffen penalties for growers. Courts, however, rarely impose existing penalties. Almost 60 per cent of convicted growers in B.C. received neither jail time nor a fine, according to sentencing statistics between 2002 and 2004. In Vancouver, 83 per cent escaped with only probation or a conditional sentence served at home.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an advocate for decriminalization, called it “opportunistic, illogical and hysterical” to step up the war on drugs after last week’s killings. “Make no mistake,” said association president John Russell. “It is the prohibition of marijuana that caused this tragedy.”