Bill C-15: The conservative choice for corporate crime

Jason shows up at my door twenty minutes after the call, bleary eyed and sporting an Alice in Chains cut off t-shirt, sweat pants, and rank greasy hair. We get in his mom’s car and take off toward the nearest McDonalds. He fills me in on what's going on over egg McMuffins. His landlord is coming to inspect his basement suite this week, and Jason is worried his grow operation will be discovered. He needs help making the place presentable while he dismantles his hydroponic gear. I reluctantly acquiesce. Jason isn't as careful as he should be. A smart grower will keep to himself, his paranoia secluding him to a life of botany and Call of Duty. However, because I work at Puff, Jason insists on confiding in me and enlisting my help... like I'm some kind of weed-guru or something.

We arrive at his basement suite where he reveals his classic 'One-Light Wonder' set-up. The room is walled in reflective film and in the centre, a single ballast dangles a 1000-watt High Pressure Sodium grow light over eighteen, four-foot seedlings. The structure housing the plants is equipped with a nutrients injection manifold that supplies the plants with supplements as well as water. He has also cleverly used the dryer vent to install an industrial quality exhaust blower to control air temperature. It looks like Star Trek; I’m impressed. Jason explains that the equipment is worth roughly two grand. The operation should net him roughly 20 ounces a cycle, which he could sell for about $2500. It is a pretty low rent neighbourhood, so he hasn't worried too much about getting caught – until now.

Jason has never been a big time drug dealer. At worst, he's trying to figure out what to do with himself. He isn't dangerous, he doesn't have a gun. He is just young, confused and underpaid. But he unwittingly represents the difference between centralized, mega-profit crime syndicates (and all the violence that they come with), and the old school, hippie farmer.

Proposed Bill C-15 is an attempt to target BC's $5-7 Billion gang-run marijuana industry, and will inevitably hurt small time growers like Jason. By instituting mandatory minimum sentences for drug infractions, growing a single marijuana plant in a residential area would net you nine months in prison, no exceptions. Bill C-15 was put forward by the Conservatives last year, and with the support of the Liberal party, passed through to Senate. Now that Harper has prorogued Parliament, the bill will have to wait until March, where it will run the gamut of bureaucracy again.

The bill fails in discerning organized crime syndicates from small time criminals. By introducing minimum sentencing, we take the power of discretion out of the hands of the judge, who will no longer be able to discern a low level thug from a king-pin. In fact, it actually enables organized crime to perpetuate their violent monopoly. By sentencing the likes of Jason to nine months in jail we may put great financial strain on the prison system, as is currently the situation in the United States. In 2008, the US had one out of one-hundred adults in prison. Those numbers cost the state and federal government $55 billion a year.

These highly profitable grow ops are organized, violently defended, and are far removed from Jason's ‘One-Light-Wonder,’ which really just supports his own stash. For example, Vietnamese gangs make up 95% of police raided grow operations in Vancouver, according to Det. Jim Fisher (VPD intelligence coordinator for Asian crime). These gangs utilize newly immigrated Vietnamese who may find few other job opportunities, employing them as low-level guards, cultivators or covers. Who, then, is really taking a hit when the grow operation gets busted? Certainly not the king pins. They also can’t be expected to suffer much when one of their pawns gets bumped from the game. The independent farmer is in a much different situation than a low level gang lackey, but Bill-C-15 puts them in the same cross-hair. So who does this Bill really affect? Who wins and who loses? From where I’m standing, it looks like we’re about to cut organized crime’s competition and help the blood in the bong water keep flowing.

//Marco Ferreira

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com