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Tunnel adds glow to B.C.’s pot rep

By Hempology | July 26, 2005

VANCOUVER (CP) — It’s known as the marijuana capital of Canada, a haven for potheads, where grow-ops spring up at such a rate that police can’t keep up with the multibillion-dollar industry that rivals tourism and forestry with its economic clout.

Canadian Press
July 25, 2005

It’s British Columbia, where the words “This bud’s for you” have nothing to do with beer.

Now, B.C.’s international reputation as a mecca for marijuana has been further solidified after Canadian and American law enforcement officials discovered a secret tunnel beneath the Canada-U.S. border to smuggle — what else? — pot.

Three B.C. men have been charged in Washington state with conspiracy to distribute and import marijuana after the tunnel — longer than a football field and complete with ventilation and electricity — was used to sneak across their first load of cannabis.

American officials have busted 33 cross-border tunnels between Mexico and Arizona but the one discovered last week was the first between Canada and the U.S., said Jeff Eig, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Seattle field division.

Construction of the north-south tunnel is a likely sign that increased enforcement by Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security since 9-11 is so effective that B.C. smugglers had to go underground, Eig said in an interview.

“It’s something, certainly, that we’re going to be looking at more aggressively,” he said.

Marijuana activist Marc Emery, dubbed the Prince of Pot by American media, said the sophisticated tunnel will only inflate Vancouver’s reputation for weed.

“It will remind Americans that we’re producing pot and we’re trying to get it to them in any way possible,” he said.

“I was crushed to discover (the tunnel) had been discovered so early in its history,” quipped Emery, who has twice made a run for mayor of Vancouver and is founder of the B.C. Marijuana party.

The pot politician, who has made millions with his marijuana seed business, also founded Cannabis Culture magazine and Internet-based Pot-TV.

At Emery’s B.C. Marijuana party headquarters and bookstore, the smell of pot clings to the air as a man smokes weed from a bong — a water pipe.

Tourists, many from the U.S., hang around the store, taking in the sights and scents of the place they discovered on the Internet or heard about from friends.

A couple named Linda and Frank, from Austin, Texas, seem enraptured by the pot paraphernalia that includes marijuana seeds — with names like Atomic Haze, God Bud and Lethal Purple — pipes and magazines such as High Times.

Smoking pot in a store isn’t something you’d see back in Republican “Bush country” or anywhere in the U.S., says Linda, adding there’s just too much conservative thinking where she comes from.

“Y’all have conservative people here too who think it’s a detriment to British Columbia but look at all the tourism you’re having,” gushes Linda, who doesn’t want her last name published.

Linda, a stay-at-home mom, is basically along for the scenery, while Frank says he’s been a pot aficionado for a few years.”Vancouver has the reputation in the United States, from my impression, of being the Amsterdam of the North American continent,” he says.

A few minutes later, the two head next door to the New Amsterdam Cafe, where neon signs advertising marijuana seeds jump out at passersby and where Frank enjoys a joint with seven strangers getting high in the Smoke Room.

In the cafe, people are sitting at the tables and rolling doobies without a care.

You’d think it was all legal.

Insp. Paul Nadeau, of the RCMP’s Co-Ordinated Marijuana Enforcement Team, said police are well aware of the activities at three businesses in the gritty part of Vancouver that borders on the city’s Downtown Eastside, where cocaine and heroin are kings among the junkies.

Anyone smoking marijuana can be charged with possession while those selling it can be on the hook for trafficking, Nadeau said.

But police are concentrating their limited resources on bigger problems — the explosion of grow-ops.

“The marijuana grow-ops, we get 5,000 reported to us every year but we’re only able to deal with or bust about 30 per cent of that,” Nadeau said.

In 2003, 4,514 grow-ops were reported in B.C., with an average of 236 plants per grow, Nadeau said. That’s up from 1,489 grow-ops six years earlier that averaged 149 plants each.

It’s not uncommon to see some grow-ops with over 1,000 plants, he said.

“We’re just flooded, we’re drowning in the numbers and we need to resolve that because running around from one grow-op to the next, seizing plants and sending people to court where very little if anything happens to them, is not the way to go.”

Grow-ops are seen as easy money by people who weigh the risk and reward factor and decide to go for it, Nadeau said, adding there’s only an eight per cent chance that anyone growing pot will see the inside of a jail cell.

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