Gang Violence Fuelled by Pot Prohibition, Report Says

A coalition of health, academic and law enforcement experts is calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana, saying existing laws only drive the billion-dollar industry underground and fuel gang violence.

Stop the Violence B.C., which comprises dozens of police officials, doctors, university professors, legal experts and more, released a report titled Breaking the Silence, which aims to show that marijuana prohibition, while well intentioned, has been ineffective — and, in fact, has adverse effects.

“There’s a huge problem that nobody, particularly political and other leaders in B.C., is talking about, and that is the link between cannabis prohibition and organized crime,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a coalition member and director of urban health research initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “The gang warfare that’s playing out on our streets is a natural consequence of cannabis prohibition.”

The report points out marijuana is locally produced and in large quantities, unlike cocaine or heroin, which must be imported. The report also cites a 2009 Health Canada survey that estimated there were “well over 430,000 cannabis users” in British Columbia while the number of heroin and cocaine users is only a fraction of the size. This accounts for the high profit margins for marijuana in B.C. and explains why prohibition “has made such a key financial contribution to the growth of organized crime in this province,” the report notes.

An Angus Reid poll commissioned by the coalition found:

– 87 per cent of British Columbians polled attribute gang violence to drug trafficking over profits from the illegal marijuana trade.

– 69 per cent think arresting marijuana producers and sellers is ineffective and B.C. would be better off taxing and regulating marijuana.

– 75 per cent reject the notion that possession of marijuana should lead to a criminal records

– Only 12 per cent support keeping current marijuana laws in place.

While legalizing and promoting the use of marijuana would also lead to social harms, legalizing and handling it under a strict regulatory framework would reduce them significantly, the report found.

Such a framework could include restricting outlet density and operating hours, putting limits on marijuana potency, imposing age restrictions and maximizing taxation, Wood said.

Jodie Emery, outspoken marijuana advocate and wife of Canada’s jailed “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery, has long called for legalization to reduce social harm.

“When you consider at least half of all Canadians want it to be legal, but only about 10 per cent use marijuana regularly, (you see) it’s not that all the pot smokers want it legal so they can get high,” Emery said. “It’s a huge number of people who say their money is being wasted, police resources are being wasted and people’s lives are being destroyed.”

The online poll, conducted from Sept. 7 to 9, surveyed 800 B.C. adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists.

Article from the Vancouver Sun

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Legalizing pot would cut gang violence: experts

by The Canadian Press

A new coalition of high-profile health, academic and justice experts is mounting a campaign to legalize and regulate marijuana in British Columbia, arguing the policy change would reduce gang violence and convert criminal profits into new tax revenues.

The push comes as the federal Conservative government moves to pass polar opposite legislation, an omnibus crime bill aiming to toughen penalties for drug traffickers along with other law-and-order measures.

Calling itself Stop the Violence BC, the group released it first report Thursday and is pledging to issue further scientific research, poll results and hold public forums in an effort to pressure politicians towards its cause.

“To continue the criminalization of marijuana is, I think, completely out of tune with what’s going on in society today,” Ross Lander, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge for decades, said in an interview.

“The coalition’s objects meet what I would personally want, that is stop the useless killings and the violence that attends this drug trade.”

The activist efforts are emerging from a province that’s well-known for its underground marijuana-based economy. The coalition noted a recent estimate by the right-wing Fraser Institute that puts the value of the illegal cannabis market at upwards of $7 billion.

Members of the group have seen the deleterious effects of such organized crime up close in their jails, courts and hospitals. They include criminology professors, medical health officers, police and a retired RCMP Chief Superintendent.

The report, called Breaking the Silence, said the ban on marijuana has not only been a failure but it has spawned violence while making criminals rich. It points to scientific and public health research in proposing that lawmakers regulate pot under a public health framework.

Police officer David Bratzer, who’s based in Victoria, said he believes prohibition is “well-intentioned.

“But my personal opinion is that it has failed in B.C. and around the world,” said Bratzer in the coalition’s news release.

He said the huge criminal enterprise managing the drug trade becomes more dangerous each day.

“I strongly support controlled marijuana legalization as an effective way to fight crime and protect our communities.”

The report was accompanied by an Angus Reid poll that found 87 per cent of British Columbians attribute gang violence to drug trafficking, in which groups fight over marijuana profits. The poll of 800 people was conducted online over three days in early September. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

“The time has come for all politicians — municipal, provincial and federal — to say whether they agree with public opinion,” said Dr. Evan Wood of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS in the news release.

He said politicians must “show real leadership” on the matter by acknowledging that marijuana prohibition is a key source of gang violence in B.C.

The federal ministry of justice, however, issued a brief statement saying the government has “no intention” to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Instead, the government is continuing efforts under its national anti-drug strategy.

“Which focuses on prevention and access to treatment for those with drug dependencies, while at the same time getting tough on drug dealers and producers who threaten the safety of our youth and communities.”

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond echoed the feds, saying such a proposal is not being considered by the province.

The report estimates there are about 430,000 cannabis users in B.C., with a much smaller fraction using harder drugs like heroin or cocaine.

It states that scientific literature shows criminalizing pot has had the same “unintended consequences” as alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s. It notes an estimated $2.5 trillion has been spent by North American governments on the “war on drugs” over the last 40 years, yet the drug is still “readily available.”

Further, the report describes the Vancouver murder of a notorious crime leader in a downtown nightclub in 1998 and says gang violence has only increased since that time.

A bloody gang war ravaged Vancouver streets in 2009, when 43 gang-related homicides were recorded. In the same year in B.C. there was also 276 drive-by shooting incidents, many of which occurred in public spaces. RCMP say such gangs have expanded their network from the Lower Mainland to other parts of the province.

The poll showed that only 12 per cent of British Columbians support keeping the current marijuana laws in place.

– Article from CTV News.

Legalize marijuana sales, say B.C. experts

by CBC News


A coalition of prominent B.C. police officers, health professionals, legal experts and academics is calling for the legalization and regulated sale of marijuana.

The group Stop the Violence, which includes former B.C. Supreme Court justice Ross Lander and B.C.’s former chief coroner Vince Cain, has launched a high-profile political campaign to “end the cannabis cash cow of organized crime.”

Panel member Dr, Evan Wood, of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says marijuana prohibition is fuelling gang warfare, and school children now have easier access to pot than either alcohol or cigarettes, because of the reach of organized crime.

“Instead of having a regulated market, we’ve turned things over to this extremely violent unregulated market controlled by organized crime,” said Wood.

“Cannabis is more available to young people than alcohol and tobacco, and what we’ve seen in a government-funded surveillance system is that the price of cannabis continues to go down and the potency of cannabis continues to go up.”

Wood said the group is calling for the regulated sale of marijuana similar to cigarettes, so that it can be controlled, taxed and its use eventually reduced.

No deterrent
Former justice Lander said that 34 years on the bench taught him prohibition isn’t working.

“The whole exercise is futile. [Marijuana’s] being used prominently everywhere, not just in British Columbia but throughout North America, and it’s impossible to extinguish,” said Lander.

“There’s no apparent deterrent to me. It wasn’t a deterrent to even those people who were tried and other people who might enter the same trade in dealing with these drugs.”

Stop the Violence said that in 2009 there were 43 gang-related deaths in B.C., and 276 drive-by shootings that put the public at risk.

Victoria police officer David Bratzer says his experiences as a front-line officer showed him marijuana prohibition just isn’t working.

“I’ve investigated situations where people have been stabbed in drug deals gone bad over something as small as a simple [$10] bag of marijuana, so its very much based on my personal experiences that I think a public health approach to this issue would be more effective than a criminal justice approach.

The group also released the results of an Angus Reid poll it commissioned that suggested only 13 per cent of British Columbians support keeping the current marijuana laws unchanged.

The poll was conducted with a sample of 800 British Columbians and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

– Article from CBC News.