Prohibition benefits Vancouver gangs
A retired judge has doubts about whether Premier Gordon Campbell’s response to the recent upsurge in gang-related shootings in the Lower Mainland will quell organized-crime-related violence in the long term.
Jerry Paradis, who was a provincial court judge for 28 years until he retired in 2003, said that putting more police officers on the ground won’t lessen the danger to ordinary citizens, who are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire.
“The police will be unaware of when the next explosion will happen,” Paradis told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from his North Vancouver residence. “They don’t know about them [shootings] until they happen.”
Paradis is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a Massachusetts-based group composed of current and former members of the police and justice communities who are critical of current drug policies around the world.
“I’m satisfied in my own mind that although organized crime is involved in other things at the moment, while this particular or several gang wars may be due to other things that I’m not aware of, I have no doubt in my mind that it’s [an] attempt to either get status or maintain status in the drug market and protect turf,” he said.
In Canada, drug laws are a federal matter. Judging by pronouncements from Campbell and Attorney General Wally Oppal, it seems the province will be seeking federal help with this problem, but only in terms of expanding legal provisions for wiretapping, and toughening laws for bail and criminal sentencing.
The experience of the United States with outlawing alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s is instructive, according to Paradis. Criminal organizations proliferated and made huge amounts of money from the illegal-alcohol market. With this came gang rivalries and violence. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Paradis stressed, the widespread gang violence disappeared almost overnight.
According to Paradis, “The same thing happens here, and until we legalize and regulate drugs—all drugs, but at least we can start with marijuana; that’s the one that’s got the most demand and therefore needs the most supply, and therefore is the most lucrative to get involved with—until we do that, it’s just not going to get better, no matter how many cops we put on the street or how much money we throw at the problem.”
Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, which is chaired by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, has noted that B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Southern Ontario, and the Greater Montreal region are the country’s organized-crime centres.
“The illicit drug market remains the largest criminal market in terms of extent, scope, and the degree of involvement by the majority of organized crime groups,” CISC stated in its 2008 annual report on organized crime.
The report also noted that marijuana “remains one of the most trafficked illicit drugs in Canada, with extensive organized crime involvement at all levels of production, distribution and exportation”.
A 2006 drug situation report by the RCMP estimated annual cannabis production in Canada at 1,399 to 3,498 tonnes and said it “continues to be predominant in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec”.
In 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released a report noting that the criminalization of marijuana has seen the “power and wealth of organized crime enhanced as criminals benefit from prohibition; and governments see their ability to prevent at-risk use diminished”.
Paradis said that the value of drugs on the street is grossly out
of proportion to the real cost of production. He noted that a single shot of cocaine should cost about $3.50, with a “reasonable” return to the producer. He said that, in fact, it’s sold on the black market for about 10 times that price.
“As soon as you decriminalize, it becomes something like alcohol, which the provinces are in charge of,” Paradis said. “I see no reason why it shouldn’t be exactly the same as the liquor stores. The only difference would be—and I think it should be this way with liquor as well—there would be no marketing, no advertising, no promotion, zero.
“We managed to price alcohol in such a way, in a variety of alcohols, that people who are addicted to alcohol but have little funds don’t steal to get what they want,” he added.
Feb 12, 2009 at 10:30am
Hopefully the government will wake up to this fact. People are going to continue to access the drugs they want. Especially pot. The best way to combat the gangs is to take away their revenue. Has anyone noticed the Netherlands falling apart?
Feb 12, 2009 at 6:50pm
Government, whether overtly, covertly, or inadvertantly assure the continued link between drugs and gangs by practicing their own varieties of the "war on drugs". "Getting tough" only serves to ensure that illegal drugs remain a "seller's market", and thus the prices continue to be very high, leading to a necessary "collateral market" in crime to acquire the funds needed for the drugs.
Were I a cynic, I'd say the sky high prices are regarded as favourable, because of the baksheesh...........
Feb 12, 2009 at 7:14pm
crabby.gramma Good for you, Judge Paradis! If pot and coke were legalized, regulated, and heavily taxed, we would eliminate the gangs and at the same time probably make enough money to pay off the national/provincial debts.
And today I heard Mr. Oppal on CBC explaining that we can't do that because the US wouldn't like it.
Doing only those things the US likes has really benefitted us, hasn't it - NOT!
Feb 13, 2009 at 5:49am
This is the answer. It is the answer for the US as well. What was #1 question for Obama? When will cannabis be legalized or decrimilized. Legalization would takes the organized crime and gangs out of it and create businesses, farmers and many jobs. I could see Canada and the US doing this as a joint effort. (pun intended)
Feb 13, 2009 at 9:53am
MysTerri - I hope they do do something like legalize marijuana. It would be good to regulate harder drugs. I don't understand why pot is illegal while alcohol is legal. If I see a gang of youth on the streets in Gastown at night, I am praying they are potheads and not drunks, because the drunks will kill me or assault me (drunks are dangerous people), while the worst potheads have ever done is to laugh at me. Laughing at me I can handle, all the guns and knives and bad attitudes that leave the bars at night are deadly. Drunks are deadly on the sidewalks (leaving the bars with their guns, brass knuckles, knives and bad attitudes) as well as the streets (driving home in their cars).
It would be good if Canada realized that there would be a positive contribution made to the GNP if marijuana was legal. It could be a very lucrative industry which could vastly improve the Canadian economy. More money made in taxes, less money spent in jails and courtrooms. More jobs for the unemployed.
Feb 13, 2009 at 12:27pm
When everybody who enjoys marijuana, and uses it responsibly, is willing to stand up and come out of the closet, we'll see something akin to the gay liberation movement of the previous decade. Many pot users run a terrible risk of being caught and losing their standing in their community, specially those of us in positions of fiduciary trust. I know very important people who enjoy a fat one now and then, and I have relatives who coach sports, and play a productive roll in very high end communities in Vancouver who also enjoy some bud. I've done the books for law firms in Victoria where the partners smoke some of the best bud in the world--thanks to their grow-op clients. I know a teacher who deals pot and is a marvelous expert with learning challenged kids. It's a damn shame that this relatively harmless plant and its thc intensive buds has been associated with nightmare narcotics like heroin; but that's politics, and all politicians need to change their positions in a situation like this is to get a glimpse of how successful and important a significant portion of pot users are. Come on folks....lets get this silly archaic law turned around in favor of common sense. Please, stand up and be counted.
Feb 13, 2009 at 1:09pm
(I hope the editor doesn't mind me double posting the following comment as it belongs in this thread as well)
Left unspoken in the discussion of the evils of prohibition is the view from the "other side of the coin". All black market drugs combined kill approximately 1700 people a year in Canada. Tobacco, alcohol and legal pharmaceuticals kill approx. 90,000 even though those legal substances have the benefit of sterile and expensive manufacturing processes with rigid quality control. One can imagine that profit is the main motivator for gangsters but it might surprise you to know that many gangsters are fully aware of the massive hypocrisy in a system that persecutes people who want to relax or stimulate themselves with drugs that are far less deadly than those that governments and their ethically and morally challenged police forces condone. This knowledge is more than a little empowering for these purveyors of forbidden delights.
Now, due to the antics of a very small percentage of the ranks of local black market players, you have right wing mass media fear mongering over recent gunplay so Gordon Campbell can appear to be effective and useful instead of just being a convicted drunk driver who has spent most of his time selling off choice public assets to Republican Party connected American interests.
Feb 13, 2009 at 1:40pm
If you TRIPLED the police force, there will be NO DIFFERENCE in the gang violence as long as the prohibition on marijuana continues. Canada is headed down the same road as the USA's failed Drug Wars that cost taxpayers BILLIONS every year, and what does it accomplish? Absolutely NOTHING! And just look how the US Drug War has decimated South America! The violence is out of control so bad there that the government can do little to stop it now!
With the US now so weakened and distracted with it's own nightmares, now is the time for Canada to do the right thing for this country and completely lift the prohibition on marijuana. The benefits to the country would be many: dramatically reduce gang violence, create a whole new industry that will provide jobs, and create a windfall of new tax revenue for every province! It will make our streets safer and our economy stronger, what's not to like about this??
Gang violence in Canada will continue to grow and get worse unless the marijuana prohibition is removed. All you have to do is look at the "success" of the War on Drugs the US has waged over the past 20+ years to see that it's the WRONG SOLUTION to the problem! THE USA DOES NOT MAKE THE LAWS IN CANADA!
Feb 14, 2009 at 11:55am
Changing our laws and policies won't do much untill the US does as well.
Look at Colombia and Mexico who also mainly export.
Feb 15, 2009 at 12:26pm
We have done such a fine job of taxing and regulating alcohol and prescription drugs. Lord knows there is no black market problem with them. The scary cigarette packages alone keep youth from smoking. Prostitution is another fine example of our ability to tax and regulate..... we could have a section of the corner store set aside for an after dinner hit of meth. Check the id though. And some LSD and ecstacy for the party would be easier to get and keep away from kids when you can bring home as much as you want as a 19 year old. Put it in the medicine cabinet. Now what do we do with those pesky Indian smokes?