Marijuana busts in Maple Ridge dropped by half in the span of a year, according to statistics from Ridge Meadows RCMP, who suspect a proliferation of Health Canada licenses is to blame for the decrease.
Year-end figures show police took down 34 grow operations in Maple Ridge in 2011 compared to 63 in 2010, while Pitt Meadows, where an electrical safety inspection program and bylaw to prohibit designated-growing are in place, saw three grow ops searched in 2011 and one in 2010.
The RCMP officer in charge of the Ridge Meadows detachment believes Health Canada licenses, which allow people to grow marijuana legally, are contributing to the significant drop.
Supt. Dave Walsh doesn’t have the numbers or evidence to prove his suspicions, but he’s seen illegal grow operations in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows turn into legal ones in recent years.
He estimates that 80 per cent of the illegal growers from before now have Health Canada licenses.
“That’s my opinion. Is it something I can confirm? I don’t have the hard data to confirm that.”
As of Oct. 30 – 12,225 people hold an “authorization to possess” dried marijuana license under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations in Canada.
Of those, 7,277 people hold a “personal use production license,” while 2,163 more hold a “designated-person” license, which allows someone else to grow their marijuana.
Health Canada is proposing to phase out the production of marijuana for medical purposes in homes and communities. But those changes won’t come before 2014.
Police are not given a list of legal growers, so officers conduct investigations that might last a year or two, only to find out a few days before they obtain a warrant that the marijuana being grown is legal.
“It’s a lot of wasted resources,” said Walsh.
“It’s a joke. It’s well known that crime has infiltrated the program. They pay people to go to doctors to get medical licenses, they’ll buy medicinal licenses. We are no exception.”
Advocates for the legalization of marijuana, though, are quick to point out that police claims are overblown.
Kirk Tousaw, president of the British Columbia chapter of End Prohibition and a practising lawyer, notes that obtaining a Health Canada license isn’t easy.
“The number of medical marijuana licenses represent a drop in the vast ocean of marijuana being produced in B.C.,” Tousaw said.
He also wonders why police are not keeping detailed statistics about how many once illegal growops are now legal.
“The idea that they don’t have these numbers makes me curious as to why not,” Tousaw added.
“Perhaps they don’t want the numbers because they simply want to be able to speculate. I know the police don’t like legal production of marijuana. I suspect they don’t like it because it shatters the propaganda about growing marijuana that the police have been pushing for at least a decade.”
Although police were unable to provide statistics, there have been at least two instances in the past year where grow ops that were previously illegal were found to have Health Canada licenses, including one near Westview secondary.
Tousaw said police claims are exaggerated.
“Abuse is minor. Licensing enables you to do it right, whereas prohibitions in many instances force you to do it wrong. I think police should be applauding medical licenses instead of criticizing them.”