Media, police not talking straight on pot: author

Mounties’ claims of marijuana dangers unquestioned by media


VANCOUVER – As it turns out, Nov. 6, 2012, was a big day for marijuana laws.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state approved initiatives to legalize pot, setting the stage for the regulated production and sale of the drug. Several other jurisdictions in the U.S. have since followed suit.

In Canada, the same day two American states were effectively abandoning part of the war on drugs, provisions of a new federal law came into effect that imposed strict mandatory minimums for drug-related crimes, including marijuana production.

The contrast, says University of Victoria professor Susan Boyd, could not have been greater.

“This new law and our revived war on drugs in Canada is so contrary to what’s going on around the world,” says Boyd, who specializes in drug law and drug policy.

“It seemed like Canada was veering towards a very punitive model while the rest of the world was taking a closer look at mandatory minimums and abandoning them.”

But the revisions to Canada’s drug laws — contained in the Safe Streets and Communities Act, or Bill C-10, as it was previously known — did not happen in a vacuum, says Boyd.

Instead, Boyd argues in a forthcoming book that Canada’s recent tough-on-crime approach to drugs is, in part, the product of decades of skewed media coverage and police messaging that has routinely exaggerated the dangers of the marijuana industry and its connection to organized crime.

For the book, titled “Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media, and Justice,” Boyd examined 2,500 articles from four major daily newspapers in British Columbia from 1995 to 2009.

She found news coverage about cannabis enforcement in B.C. frequently contained inaccurate information or exaggerated claims about the size and scope of the underground marijuana industry, the sorts of people associated with grow-ops, and the industry’s connection to gangs.

Assertions by police – particularly the RCMP, which is responsible for policing in much of B.C. — were left unchallenged, she says, and politicians, in turn, relied on such misinformation to push for stricter drug laws.

For example, the news articles she examined repeatedly asserted marijuana grow-ops are inextricable linked to gangs and other criminal organizations. Police spokespeople were frequently quoted explaining that modern-day grow-ops are not “mom and pop” operations.

But Boyd says the federal government’s own research does not support that claim.

She cited a Justice Department study that was completed in 2011, obtained by a reporter through an access to information request, that examined a random sample of 500 marijuana grow operations. Of those, just five per cent had apparent links to gangs or organized crime.

“This study wasn’t released by our federal government, and you could see why,” says Boyd.

“It doesn’t fit with their Safe Streets and Communities Act, which frames marijuana grow-ops as always being associated with organized crime and gangs. I would say it’s probably the reverse.”

Boyd’s examination found the RCMP’s public statements about the scope of the marijuana trade relied on research that tallied the number of “suspected” or alleged” cases, rather than instances in which a grow-op was confirmed, which almost doubled the rate at which such activity had increased.

The RCMP — and, consequently, the news media — often linked marijuana grow-ops to guns, says Boyd. In contrast, an RCMP-funded study from 2005 found police found “firearms or other hazards” in only six per cent of grow-op cases examined.

And the value of the industry has been valued by RCMP spokespeople at anywhere from $1 billion to $8 billion a year, says Boyd.

Boyd suggests police and politicians may be exaggerating the dangers of the marijuana trade because standard say-no-to-drugs messaging hasn’t worked. She notes almost half of Canadians admit to trying pot at least once.

“We can see from our drug-use statistics that Canadians use marijuana and a small percentage of people use it regularly,” she says.

“So one way to continue with the drug enforcement law-and-order mandate is to talk about the dangerousness of the growers, and that seems to have created some headway.”

The RCMP, which Boyd focuses on heavily in the book, declined to respond to her criticisms. A spokesman said the force typically does not respond to books, particularly those that have yet to be published.

“The RCMP does not provide responses on personal opinions and views expressed by authors,” Sgt. Greg Cox said in an email.

In the articles Boyd examined, the RCMP’s claims were often repeated in the news media without question, she says.

The vast majority of the articles did not display any skepticism of the police claims, nor did they appear to have involved any independent investigation by reporters, she says.

“The RCMP and the police have become quite proficient in media relations,” she says.

“At the same time, we saw that the mainstream media became less autonomous and there was a downsizing of reporters. The police and the RCMP are releasing these statements about marijuana grow-ops, so they (reporters) take that up, and there’s very little time for them to do any real investigation.”

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Media, police not talking straight on pot: author

  1. It’s all part of the federal governments “war on evidence.” Conclusions first, facts not required.

    • It is appreciated that Professor Boyd has taken the trouble to legitimate what we want to hear, and save us the trouble of looking up the facts for ourselves.

    • The rhetoric that pot sales are in the hands of the gangs has played well for all political parties who claim to be “thinking of the children” when they formulate their policies aimed to take back the streets and school yards from gangsters. Now it turns out, that the drug sales people are actually likely family members of the children who are smoking the pot. Hmmm, what a conundrum!

  2. It appears that Canada is tightening the restrictions on marijuana growing before they legalize personal use. More than likely, they want to have sole entitlement to marijuana growing by the time it is legalized so the money will go to govt.

  3. To say, for example, that smoking pot leads to hard drug usage is as inane as saying drinking milk leads to alcoholism. Yet the mantra is repeated over and over again.
    I have smoked my share for over 40 years, as have most of my acquaintances. All are successful, responsible, tax-paying members of the community, well-educated with families, in all walks of life, including law-enforcement, the justice system, the medical profession, education, the trades, and management. None have developed any drug “problems”, though not more than a few have had or are having problems with alcohol. Some former friends have had their lives destroyed (some literally) by alcohol.
    The only problems some have suffered is the interdiction to their careers caused by the sheer lunacy of the pot laws. Apart from the inane hypocrisy of the laws (nudge nudge wink wink), the penalties are way out of whack with the implications both personal and societal to the consumption.
    To hear knuckle-dragging politicians bemoaning pot smoking and stressing the need for increased penalties is to see ideological ignorance and opportunistic pandering in full bloom. The thought that these Neanderthals are actually in a position to affect the lives of others is a sad, sad commentary on just how far the electoral process in the country has descended.
    BTW, the RCMP seem to be morphing into being more the problem than the solution. Instead of looking for grow-ops in distant fields they should spend more time looking in their own backyard for bad weeds. We’d all be the better, and probably safer, for it.
    But the legal-industrial complex must be fed. What better than low-hanging fruit?

    • While I am for the legalization of pot I don’t but the view that it is benign and harmless. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Believing it’s harmless because people function on it isn’t a good argument. Many alcoholics function for a long time until overcome by their addictions. The damage by MJ is much more insidious. I know people who have been smoking everyday for decades. They aren’t well. They’re slow, poorly motivated and their lives revolve around smoking pot. Not much of an existence.

      • Ascending to a higher level of consciousness than a parasitic debt slave like you? No, its not much of an existence. Now get your ass back to work slave, someone needs to run on the hampster wheel.

        • You know, if it wasn’t for burnouts like you, pot would probably already be legalized, everywhere.

          • Que: “Yanni, Holiday Album” Zzzzzzzzz.

        • Sorry…….SkuterTrash HAS a valid point. That you fail to respond to this post with some rationality…..validates Yanni`s comment.

          • Okay, we’ll keep choosing either Republicans or Democrats AND just shut up.

      • Most people’s lives eventually revolve around something … the person who watches TV all day … or surfs the internet all day … or plays music all day … but that being said, the ones I know who smoke a lot, generally have very active and productive lives … certainly more so than those who drink too much alcohol or eat too much fast food … the question is — should we be locking people away for using a substance much safer than many that are legal … do we really have a right to tell a person what they can put into their own body … for me it is simple — a resounding PISS OFF FEDERAL GOVERENMENT!

  4. You were expecting a different response from the RCMP? Drugs generally and weed specifically are big business for them. I’d cut them a little slack as people who merely enforce but don’t create laws if it weren’t for the propaganda they push. Their response to shrinking budgets has been to begin advocating for decriminalization so they can forego costs associated with “prosecuting” possession and turn it into a money maker.

    • Cut them slack? Do they have forfeiture laws like in the states? Seizing private property like cash…is big business for the police.

    • You fail to recognize severe LACK of “resources “available for the R.C.M.P. and many politicians…………namely ..INTELLIGENCE and COMMON SENSE.

      Compounding the problem it is mostly due to “stupidity”( a PERMANENT condition)..not “ignorance “which CAN be cured.

  5. If you care to look into it, Susan Boyd is an associate professor of Warm Fuzzy Ideas, and Stuff-I-Want-to-Hear. web uvic ca/calendar2013/FACS/FoHuaSD/index html

    “This new law and our revived war on drugs in Canada is so contrary to what’s going on around the world…”

    If we exclude China, Japan, South Korea, and a dozen or so other nations representing a 1/3 of the population, and another moderate representation that is hardly budging. She could also have added that a prestigious debating society in the U.S. had two sides face off on whether heroin (you read that correctly) should be flat-out legalized. The pro-legalization side won handily.

    But informing the public flat-out that legal Hezza is actually on the agenda, particularly following Pierre Trudeau’s PMO ambition motivated ‘transparency’, would certainly raise alarm bells among people who have two synapses left intact after the advocacy-grinders are through with them.

    • excellent respo….oh wait, you didnt address any of the facts/stats presented in the article…it’s almost as if you were attacking the messenger vs the message.

  6. According to a 1998 report by the Canadian Firearms Centre at the Department of Justice, 24% percent of Canadian households have one or more guns, and here this article states that a 2005 RCMP study found guns in only 6% of grow ops. So marijuana growers are far less likely to have a gun compared to other households. I wonder how many of us would have guessed that.

    • Most Growers know not to have guns near pot plants because prosecutors use it as an excuse to make you look bad in court. The thing people should look into is who are the owners of these new private production licences. I know who is involved but can’t say for fear of my life.
      Some investigative reporter would have one hell of a story to write.

    • My suspicion was that many raids were made on houses with no one present in them, and if the owners kept guns they would be on their person.

  7. Expose the liars who are ruining Society, Shame them in front of their peers, and cast them out from Society as the parasitic lot they are.

  8. SkuterTrash has the only comment on this tread that has tackled the real problem with weed. I was a daily pot user in my youth, and after several years realized that my short term memory was almost completely gone. I could get up from the table to go to the cupboards for the pepper shake and by the time I got there had no clue why I had gotten up. It took several years after giving up pot cold turkey (which is easy as there is no physical addition) for the condition to ease up. I am pretty sure that my makeup is not that different from the rest of society, so I would assume that many, if not all pot smokers suffer from the same debilitating effects.

    The most common method of ingesting pot is by smoking it, as that is the easiest and gives you the quickest results, In all the comments I see promoting the legalization of pot I did not see one addressing the dangers of smoking. This is a society that abhors smoking, unless I guess, if it’s your way of getting high. It would be my guess that most people who comment on this thread are non smokers and strongly oppose it. I find this lack of comment curious.

    Also curious is that it seems many of the comments advocating legalization seem to think there is no need for government regulation or involvement when and if it is legalized. I would not want any of my friends or family who smoke pot to live in an environment where there is basically a free for all to supply it. The products suddenly available could easily be laced with dangerous chemicals by unscrupulous growers, something that I am sure is probably already happening. Personally I would also find it offensive that my neighbor is getting rich and not paying taxes.

    To say that gang activity is not involved in a big way with the distribution of pot have their blinders on. Having acquaintances who grow pot I know here are thousands of independent growers who rely on organized crime to get rid of their crops. The fastest way to get busted is to sell it by the gram. Why take that chance when someone is willing to pay you cash for your crop and it disappears out of your grow op in the back of a vehicle in one foul swoop. Who do you think is paying you that big chunk of change and looking after the street level distribution which usually done by junkies already hooked on hard drugs by these same gangs? You are kidding yourself if you think this will change simply by legalizing it.

    • POSTERBOY Cop?

    • That is a VERY OLD song you are singing….It originated with those against
      rescinding (alcohol) prohibition…and was just as much a ” nonfunctioning” idea then AS IT IS NOW.

    • I think that what you are talking about with forgetting why you walked into the kitchen,for example, is just absentmindedness, it happens to everyone, including people who do not smoke cannabis & It happens more the older you get. Happens more to me when I am tired or have a lot going on in my head.

      • Yep .. hitting 60 next BD and I can attest to that … UGGHH! LOL

  9. Professor Susan Boyd is correct. Here’s what she doesn’t address:

    – House of Commons Debates, 14th Parliament, 2nd Session: Vol. 2, page 1136, 14th of March, 1923, under the title, “Narcotic Drugs Act Amendment Bill” [image 112]
    – the House of Commons Debates, 14th Parliament, 2nd Session: Vol. 3, pages 2114-2124, [image(s) 70 – 80]

    The specific rationale given on page 1136 [image 112] for the consolidation of an unspecified commodity on page 2124 [images 70 thru 80] for a non-existent reason – the suppression of the trafficking of a substance that, at the time, didn’t exist – in
    1923 as described [page 1136 – image 112]. The trafficking of the substance in question would not occur for another 50 years (1972-3) [see Appendices/pp. 599 – 600, Panic and Indifference, Giffen, Endicott & Lambert, 1991.]

    [Indian hemp (cannabis indica) was regulated under the Statutes of Canada to The 1908 Propriety or Patent Medicine Act (Schedule) prior to 1923 – Panic and Indifference, Giffen, Endicott & Lambert, 1991. page 51 & under References p.100 (28c)]

    In a 1929 amendment to the Canadian Act, the term cannabis indica was replaced by cannabis sativa. The Chief Dominion Analyst, M. H. M. Lancaster stated in a reply to
    Division Chief Colonel C. H. L. Sharman that “cannabis indica and cannabis africanis” were merely variations of “cannabis sativa” . . .Panic and Indifference, Giffen, Endicott & Lambert, 1991. page 182

    • May I sum up for us peasants?……..Drugs and alcohol were at one time uncontrolled. The Rabid religious(Mostly Christians) fought to have their political lackeys pass prohibition.
      It was such a c.o.c.k.up (as the British say) The alcohol part was rescinded.
      but the drug part was retained(sadly) to keep the Christians happy.

      • while that does paint a general ambiance concerning Temperance groups, etc., of the day, the decisions were prompted by the newly formed Department of Health’s Division of Narcotic Control who utilized the recommendations of the RCMP. Info on this can be found in Panic and Indifference (1991) Giffen, Endicott and Lambert

  10. Harper, our justice system,and the Political Christian Right……….DO NOT employ common sense and intelligence. Unfortunately those are resources that are not available to them.
    Sad for our Society as a whole.

  11. It ain’t called Propoganda for nothin’ !! Let the truth set us all and this plant free at last. Say adios to addicting pills, or pills that leave you hungover, or pills that allow you to do things in the middle of the night that you won’t remember in the morning. I want a medicine that doesn’t have Diarrhea or Death as a possible side effect. I want a medicine that won’t make me shit my pants when I quit. This plant is that medicine. It’s going to be legalized. Stop wasting time. Time is killing too many of our loved ones.

  12. Every 19 seconds a person in the US dies from a LEGALLY prescribed med … 400,000 plus from tobacco … 100,000 from alcohol …. I am not sure anyone has ever died form cannabis … yet Harper and his band of religious right zealots seem to think that spending 500 million dollars/year on cannabis enforcement is somehow meaningful and helpful to society … it is absurd to the point where I get apoplexy. That the RCMP attempt to support this position with some of Harper’s comments just makes me far less supportive of that organization too … this BS has to stop before it get out of hand like in the USA, where they have privatized prisons that are populated by mostly Blacks and Latinos for minor drug possession .. . the whole scenario there is just plain evil!