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Aerial assault on pot a waste of money

By Hempology | August 28, 2007

Nanaimo News Bulletin, BC
25 Aug 2007
Mitch Wright


The annual aerial assault portion of the police war on drugs got underway this week.

Every summer, RCMP members hop in a helicopter for weeks on end to search for illegal marijuana grow shows set up in Vancouver Island’s backwoods.

It’s an expensive endeavour, considering the manpower involved, the cost of equipment and the open-ended duration of the program, which RCMP say will go on “until there’s no more work to do.”

The biggest costs will be for the three Sea King choppers on loan from the Department of National Defence.  Whether it’s the RCMP footing the bill or the military hardly matters, since both are taxpayer-funded – and there’s only one taxpayer.

And from a cost-benefit perspective, it’s all a big waste of time and resources that could be better spent fighting more serious crime. 

Last year the effort netted some 16,500 plants from 200 different grow sites around the Island.  That’s not an insignificant number and a sizable dent in the marijuana drug trade.

Police argue the dent carries through to an impact on organized crime – - since pot revenue often funds such activity – and thus reduces street violence and other lower-level crimes.

I don’t see it.

Sure, removing more than 15,000 plants will pinch some growers’ wallets, but it will hardly put them out of business.

It’s more of an expensive make-work project than actually fighting crime, since the grow-ops are near the bottom of the crime food chain.

Stamp out one or ten with the annual summer attack and they’ll just pop up elsewhere, or the criminals will shrug it off as another cost of doing illicit business, while continuing to reap no shortage of revenue from their myriad other underground – or in many cases in-plain-sight – money-making schemes.

Often this law enforcement effort doesn’t even result in charges, unless the plantations are on private property or some idiot is sufficiently moronic to hang around even after the tell-tale thwump-thwump-thwump of a chopper provides an alert to police presence.

Despite the vast number of intellectually-challenged criminals, that scenario is unlikely.  No one is that stupid.

So all we’re really getting for the hefty unknown tally for which we’re paying is a few thousand pounds of pot that won’t make it to the street.

No doubt that effort does make a tangible difference in crime, but it’s doubtful that benefit outweighs the cost that went into achieving the benefit.

Or who knows what other law enforcement benefits might be accomplished by retargeting those resources to more burning issues – it might even result in landing the so-called big fish, rather than settling for the small catch year-in and year-out, which ultimately amounts to little more than blowing smoke as public relations.

If people are buying the hazy logic behind this program, I’d say they’re smoking something.

Drug Disposal

Getting drugs off the street is one thing, destroying those drugs is another.

A decade or so ago, while working at the Elk Falls pulp mill in Campbell River, I got a few first-hand glimpses of how it’s done.

Every so often the steam plant would get cordoned off – with only steam engineers and a few other key personnel allowed in – and a caravan of unmarked trucks, vans and SUVs would cruise through the mill gates and bags of someone’s illegal harvest would be tossed in the boiler.

More than a few employees would crack jokes about getting downwind of the smoke stacks on lunch break.

A similar method was employed after a huge hashish bust up in Fanny Bay in the late 1990s.  Nearly 10 tonnes of brick was trucked down to Ladysmith, under protection from numerous armed officers of the law, and burned to ashes in the old Peerless Road incinerator.

I’ve no doubt people were trying to get downwind of that smoke too.

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