Article by Mike Hager, The Globe and Mail
Contrary to common RCMP wisdom, organized crime groups play a relatively small role in Canada’s underground cannabis trade, and the majority of people behind the country’s illegal grow operations and dispensaries are otherwise law-abiding, a group of academics and small-scale marijuana businesses have told the federal legalization task force.
A written submission co-authored by a prominent criminologist on behalf of a drug-policy advocacy group cites government data that showed just 5 per cent of marijuana criminal cases over an eight-year period had links to organized crime or street gangs.
And the groups warn that overestimating the role of organized crime will create a new regime that will be too restrictive and simply perpetuate the black market.
The federal Liberal government is soliciting input from across the country as it prepares to introduce legislation next spring to legalize recreational marijuana, which it says is necessary to stop young Canadians from getting easy access to the drug and to stop the flow of profits to violent criminal gangs.
“A lot of this comes down to your definition of organized crime. If you think three people acting together and potentially making some kind of profit necessarily means that these are organized criminals, then, of course, everybody in the cannabis industry is an organized criminal,” said Neil Boyd, a professor at Simon Fraser University and co-author of the report that the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is sending to the federal task force this week.
“But if you think along the lines of the Justice Canada website, where the focus is on corruption [and] the use of force or violence, you’ll find very few people in the marijuana industry are properly defined as organized criminals,” Prof. Boyd said.
Ottawa should allow a variety of these independent, small-scale growers and dispensaries to participate in the emerging legal market, not just restrict the commercial production and sale of cannabis to the two dozen companies now licensed for Health Canada’s medical marijuana regime, Prof. Boyd added.