Friday, October 15, 2010

With B.C.'s 20,000 grow ops, the pot war is lost

B.C. Hydro is getting ready to tell the utilities commission that it's losing $100 million worth of stolen electricity to grow ops every year.
The Crown corporation is including the estimate as part of its justification for spending spend $930 million on smart power meters for customers. The meters should make it easier to detect theft, it says.
That $100 million figure should tell us something about the foolishness of our current drug policies.
It's big money, equivalent to the electricity used by 77,000 homes, B.C. Hydro told delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this month.
The corporation also says grow ops use three to 10 times as much electricity as an average house.
Take the midpoint for grow op power use and the $100 million means some 17,000 grow ops are stealing electricity right now in the province.
All these numbers are a little overwhelming. But consider that there are 1,300 liquor stores, public and private, in the province. For every store, there are 13 grow ops stealing electricity.
But that's far from the total number. Many operators use generators or take the risk of running up big B.C. Hydro bills and hope they don't get caught.
And there are big outdoor marijuana crops across the province.
The RCMP does annual fall patrols, often using planes and helicopters. Last year, officers chopped down 29,000 plants on Vancouver Island, likely a fraction of the total outdoor plantations.
So, if B.C. Hydro's submission to the B.C. Utilities Commission is accurate, there are certainly more than 20,000 grow ops in the province at any time and could be up to 30,000.
Which suggests that the idea that police are actually going to make any real dent in the marijuana industry is pure fantasy.
It's physically impossible - without thousands more police officers on the assignment - to deal with that number of offenders.
The number isn't the only issue. Estimates of the value of the marijuana industry to B.C. are all over the map, with Forbes magazine putting it at $7 billion a few years ago.
Conservative estimates have the industry contributing $3 billion to $4 billion a year to the economy.
That virtually ensures that as fast as police detect one grow op and seize the plants and equipment, another one will open.
So on one hand, there's an expensive and largely pointless effort that makes no real impact on marijuana production and sales in the province.
And on the other, there are the negative impacts.
The most significant is the enormous boost handed to criminal gangs. Because marijuana is illegal, the grow ops are hugely profitable. The money enriches the gangs. It also fuels the rivalries and gang wars that bring violence to communities.
That's understandable. Practically, growing marijuana and growing tomatoes involves similar input costs. Tomatoes sell for about $1 a pound. Marijuana brings more than $3,000 a pound at the retail level. The profit motive ensures the grow ops aren't going away.
And police have pointed out that gangs often trade B.C. marijuana to their U.S. counterparts for cocaine that is then imported into this province.
It would simply be foolish to continue this costly, futile charade.
So why not legalize and regulate marijuana?
That doesn't mean ignoring the risks of pot use, which are real, despite the denials of the more enthusiastic supporters.
But alcohol and tobacco both have much more serious risks. We have accepted that regulation is the best way to manage them.
And it will not eliminate illegal grow ops. There is still a good export market.
But it would cut into the criminal profits. Police would have a slightly more manageable task. And crime would be reduced.
Californians will vote next month on legalization.
It is long past time for Canada to acknowledge that the current drug efforts waste money and increase the reach of crime and that it is time to try something new.
Footnote: California's government estimates taxes on legal marijuana sales could produce $1.4 billion a year in revenue, while providing significant savings in policing and prison costs. The initiative - to be voted on Nov. 2 - is opposed by some police, politician and religious groups and by the states beer and liquor distributors who fear lost profits.


Anonymous said...

I refer to my comment on your earlier pot-related post.

Decriminalizing an act because the laws surrounding it are hard or expensive to enforce does not make the act, or the activity surrounding the act, inherently less harmful to people or the community they live in - or another community: marijuana will still be illegal in the USA, and therefore still fantastically profitable to produce and smuggle into that country. (I also note that California's Proposition 19 is all about domestic possession, sale and production: it maintains the existing laws against transporting it across state or national borders.)

Again, I don't think legalization will change much. Electricity will still be stolen (as another commenter pointed out last time, why not just keep on stealing the electricity, whether you are growing pot or tomatoes in your secret greenhouse), gangs will still be struggling with each other to control the trade (with civilians caught in the crossfire), the police will still be running around searching for grow-ops (except now they will be unlicensed ones, not illegal) possibly without making much more of a dent in the industry than they now do.

what will change? We'll probably have a few more slow, hungry and stupid people around. I suppose if you're comfortable with the idea of your government selling you harmful and addictive substances, why not go all the way.

And, when you think about it, this is actually a fabulous method of social control for government to get into. Yes, pot smokers don't make a fraction of the trouble drinkers do, but they don't get up to much of anything but shambling around looking for snacks and more pot. Ideal if you want your population to be quiescent, socially and politically disengaged, law-abiding (since we've abolished that law) zombies. Damn, why didn't They think of that before?

DPL said...

Make it legal and regulated, tax the heck out of its use and move on. Way to much of our police time is spent on something just about anyone can grow. The governments screwed up big time when they prohibited liquor as people still drank lots, the crooks made money and the government lost revenue. Canada grown the stuff in some mine in Manitoba at great expense, to sell for medical use, while they could be doing the same thing in assorted federal on ground establishments. They are presently flogging a dead horse. Heck if one needs the stuff for medical reasons, two doctors can write prescriptions for its use. They chose not to use the poor grade government stuff but shop around No I don't use the stuff.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it is the rationale of many individuals that by uttering complete and silly nonsense, the substance of which is contrary both to reason and to research, the status quo will be maintained.
The reality is that no one on the following list of names would qualify for "politically disengaged zombies shambling around looking for snacks": Carl Sagan; Howard Stern; John Lennon; Pierre Burton; Walt Disney; Winston Churchill; Art Garfunkel; Bill Clinton; Barack Obama; Michael Bloomberg (Mayor of New York...“You bet I did. And I enjoyed it!”); Count Bassie; etc.;etc to the tune of over 40% of the population of North America having at least trie it, and at 20 million Americans who admit to having toked up within the last month. Here's a link to a recent study, as opposed to an ideology-based opinion piece.

Let's get real.

Raymond Graham

RossK said...

Rode to and from work yesterday.....

East to West and back again route in the teens took me through the leafiest of leafy City of Vancouver neighborhoods.

On the way West in the morning went by a very nice house on a quiet street with four police cars out front, one of which was unmarked....Lots of officers standing around on front lawn, doors closed, heavy curtains on windows drawn tight...

On way East in evening twelve hours later there were still two patrol cars out front, door and windows now wide open....police bringing big, bulky items out.


Wonder what was going on in that nice, respectable Shaughnessy mansion the last few months, if not years?

Mr. Willcocks is right.

The war is over.

It is time to sign the peace treaty and change the laws so that we can move on, minimize the damage, and remove the massive profit motive.

cherylb said...

That's much too logical of an argument for the marijuana prohibitionists.

Let everyone else do what they want with pot. In BC we should legalize it, regulate it, tax it and benefit from it. End of story....

I don't smoke it either anymore. Don't like that "high-test" stuff. I used to love good ole BC homegrown. Might even go back to it if someone started growing it, or it was legal to grow my own.