|Marijuana has been garnering a lot of negative media attention in Calgary recently due to the burgeoning numbers of grow-ops police are busting and concern over organized crime involvement in the industry.
City of Calgary aldermen and the police have been speaking out about potential safety issues related to grow-ops, including black mould and fire hazards due to growers illegally tapping into power lines. Theres now a steering committee, comprised of various City of Calgary organizations, devoted to trying to crack down on the grow-ops that are popping up all over the city.
But a group of Calgary pot users will be trying to send out a different message on May 7. Theyll be participating in Global Marijuana March, a worldwide protest to legalize pot, which first began in New York City in 1996 and has since spread to 37 countries and 181 cities.
Calgary organizer Matthew Brown says demonizing pot doesnt make sense, and he argues legalization would solve many of the problems that city politicians and police are concerned about.
"Full legalization is the way to go," says Brown. "Prohibition has never worked in the past and I dont see why it would now."
He points out that alcohol prohibition was a dismal failure, ending up being extremely lucrative for gangsters such as Al Capone, but after prohibition ended, organized crime exited the business because it was no longer profitable. Brown says the same thing would happen if pot were legalized.
"Prohibition is what allows people to profit off it," he says. "Its really something thats ludicrous. Its a bunch of our police force thats being wasted. We have people being shot every weekend, but cops are taking down (grow-ops)."
The Liberal government has introduced a bill that would decriminalize possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and the growing of three or fewer marijuana plants. It also increases the maximum penalty for anyone who grows more than 50 marijuana plants to 14 years in prison from seven. But Brown says decriminalization isnt the right solution because grow-ops will still be lucrative for organized crime.
"Its still not going to stop growers. Its still going to waste police officers time trying to bust grow-ops," he says.
Busting grow-ops is a busy pastime for Calgary police right now. So far in 2005, police have already busted 52 grow-ops and seized pot plants valued at $27.9 million. Last year police busted 234 grow-ops and seized pot valued at over $100 million.
The Calgary Police Services remains opposed to decriminalization and legalization. "Its an addictive drug associated with organized crime," says drug unit detective Nina Vaughan.
Yet despite the crackdown, theres increased demand for the product. According to the recently released Canadian Addiction Survey, the number of people who have used pot at least once in their lives has doubled in the last 15 years to 44.5 per cent in 2005 from 23.2 per cent in 1989. Alberta has a higher rate at 48.9 per cent.
And theres been no success at keeping pot out of the hands of teenagers. The survey found 30 per cent of 15 to 17 year olds and 47 per cent of 18 to 19 year olds in Canada have smoked pot in the last year.
Brown is also hoping the marijuana protest will raise awareness about the ineffectiveness of the federal governments medicinal marijuana program. People with serious medical conditions, including AIDS, cancer and MS, can get government permission to use pot as long as their doctor will support them in their application. But Brown says many sick people who could benefit from using marijuana arent getting approved.
"Its a long, arduous process to get certified. A lot of doctors are afraid to prescribe it," says Brown.
The federal government is also supplying pot to those who get permission to use it, but Brown says the quality is so low people are opting not to use it and are forced to get their supply from drug dealers on the street. Fast Forward was unable to reach anyone at Health Canada for comment.
The Global Marijuana March Calgary protest is taking place Saturday, May 7 at Tompkins Park at 2:30 p.m. Protestors will march to Olympic Plaza, where there will be speeches from medicinal marijuana activist Grant Krieger and Marijuana Party member Logan Marshall.