Big pot busts make great show and tell
By BILL KAUFMANN, Calgary Sun
It doesn’t happen by design, it’s just how things shake out in the war on drugs, says the senior cop.
Drug bust statistics compiled by a new Alberta police force created largely to battle organized crime — the drug trade, in other words — reveal a strikingly lopsided picture.
In 2009-10, the entity comprising city and RCMP officers known as ALERT states it seized illicit drugs of various kinds worth $104 million.
Of that total, nearly $101 million was marijuana — the drug that, unlike legal pharmaceuticals and alcohol, has never led to a fatal overdose and which most Canadians believe should be decriminalized.
Seizures of the second-largest value was cocaine, at a distant $2.4 million.
ALERT intelligence chief Insp. Jim Kennedy says the force “contends with public demands, of what they see as important.
“It’s going after the entities that do the most harm to the community.”
The results heavily larded with pot numbers, he says, are a reflection of the kind of tips received “that can’t be ignored ... it’s not like we’re focusing all our efforts on marijuana.”
Among the other stated ALERT mandates are child sex offenders, fugitives and white- collar criminals.
Busting the financial crooks requires heavy expenditures of resources and time that marijuana investigations don’t, explains Kennedy.
As a result, what the public mostly sees is the lower-hanging fruit of the drug busts — almost entirely consisting of marijuana — which make impressive show and tells.
“The drug files are the ones that typically grab the headlines, they’re tangible for the public to see,” says Kennedy.
Precisely. And it’s not as if police are exhibiting against their will.
The inspector’s message is that there just aren’t the resources to decisively deal with organized criminals driven largely by the lucrative drug trade.
“It’s hard to tell how big a dent you’re making — it’s about trying to prevent growth ... if we can hold our own, it’s a goal worth going after,” says Kennedy.
The unspoken elephant in the living room is how prohibition supercharges the value of drugs and the incentive to peddle them and keeps spinning law enforcement into a perpetual merry-go-round pursuing it.
The still fledgling ALERT has been expanding its budget and range throughout the province and hopes to further extend it, says Kennedy.
Meanwhile, as reported in Maclean’s, the RCMP last fall abruptly pulled out of a Vancouver news conference where the force was to acknowledge what it knew — that the Insite safe injection facility in that city’s downtown eastside is benefitting the community.
It’s hard to disconnect all this with the Harper’s government’s determination to build more prisons, despite an overall drop in the crime rate — while Ottawa pushes through a get-tough-on drugs agenda that’s failed elsewhere.
Drug law reform activist Eugene Oscapella has researched the dysfunctional war on drugs for two decades, but confesses he’s rarely seen dope seizure stats as heavily skewed as ALERT’s.
“The war on drugs is a war on cannabis and if you end the war on cannabis, the rest falls apart,” said Oscapella, a lawyer and founder of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.
“But this is even more than I would have expected ... this is crime control as industry.”
He notes with fascination how police and politicians swear by drug prohibition “that creates this fantastically lucrative black market, then complain about people enticed into it.”
Even with Mexico’s ghoulish narco war directly attributed to counterproductive laws and an unquenchable appetite for drugs, Ottawa’s “going backwards,” says Oscapella.
“It’s hard to believe the government doesn’t understand.”