Article by Peter Edwards, Hamilton Spectator
Once a relatively safe, profitable business for outlaw bikers and mobsters, organized crime is moving away from the marijuana market because legalization and homegrown pot are making any gain not worth the risk, experts say.
The market share in the pot business for organized criminals has already slid as pot-loving “disorganized criminals” perfected their horticultural skills. There wasn’t much need to smuggle pot into the country when Canadian cannabis connoisseurs liked the homegrown stuff better, experts say.
The days when Hells Angels and mobsters enjoyed a strong hand in Canada’s marijuana trade will be just a hazy memory by the time pot is to be legalized next year, according to some experts.
“A pretty small part of the marijuana industry today is what I call organized crime,” said criminologist Neil Boyd of Simon Fraser University — a change from a few decades ago, when big-league criminals thrived in the pot trade.
That’s a major shift from the mid-2000s, when outlaw bikers worked with traditional Mafia groups to move into exporting Canadian marijuana, according to Kash Heed, former B.C. solicitor general, minister of public safety and West Vancouver Police chief. Most of that product was exported to the U.S., Heed said.
Rick Ciarniello, a Canadian spokesperson for the Hells Angels, politely brushed off questions about whether the world’s largest outlaw motorcycle club has a position on legalized marijuana.
“Some are prone to believe all the police hype and propaganda,” Ciarniello said. “If that is to be believed, the Hells Angels must have such a position. The fact is; the hype and propaganda is wrong. As such, the short answer is no.”
The efforts of organized crime to control the pot trade have been undermined for the past three decades by “disorganized crime,” according to Alan Young, an associate professor at the Osgoode Hall law school. Many of these are green-thumbed potheads growing marijuana for friends.
Others are in it for the money but don’t resort to traditional organized crime hallmarks of corruption, collusion and violence, Boyd says: “They’re really just business people.”
Legalization of marijuana in some American states has cut the demand to smuggle it south. In Colorado and Washington State, where marijuana was recently legalized, pot prices have dropped almost 50 per cent over the past year, Boyd says, and lower prices mean less incentive to break the law.