Written statement

I have dedicated over 31 years of my life as a cop, finishing my police career as a chief. Most of that time was spent on Vancouver’s streets on beats related to drugs and gangs.

Fighting the war on cannabis and the violent gangs that feed off the conflict took up a vast amount of my time. The gangs and gangsters I pursued are too numerous to mention, but include household names such as the UN gang, the Hells Angels, Independent Soldiers, and Bindy Johal. These and other notorious B.C. gangsters profited by selling and exporting marijuana, while using the massive profits to import cocaine and guns into our province.

Our efforts to curtail gang wars over the cannabis industry were time-consuming, dangerous and expensive, up to and above $1 million per murder investigation. I led teams that had record-breaking arrests while removing enormous amounts of drugs from our streets. However, the successes that we enjoyed over the past three decades proved short-lived and ultimately fruitless.

In the early 1990s, I began to fully recognize the futility and the social, economic and public health costs of continuing marijuana prohibition.

And I came to one inescapable conclusion – cannabis prohibition fuels gang violence in B.C. All of the vaunted and much publicized policing efforts to control gang violence and the marijuana industry – the Uniformed Gang Task Force, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, the Marijuana Enforcement Teams, the hiring of hundreds more police offices across BC, civil forfeiture laws and tougher sentencing – have had little if any impact on the huge, highly profitable sector. In fact, costly law enforcement efforts have only served to drive the marijuana industry deeper into the hands of violent organized crime groups.

While working as the commanding officer of the Drug Unit and working towards a Masters degree in Criminology, I researched why massive investments in law enforcement did not reduce marijuana use or related crime. The reason? Money. The marijuana industry in B.C. is estimated to be worth up to $7 billion annually. The profits generated are enormous and, for some, worth killing for. When gang members are convicted and jailed, new and violent gang members are only too eager to use intimidation, guns and murder to take their place.

Many of my colleagues in policing and the criminal justice system understood that we were fighting a losing battle, and privately expressed their support to overturn marijuana prohibition and implement a strictly regulated system of marijuana sales to adults. At the same time, I took the concerns I was hearing privately and aired them publicly. In November 2001, I appeared before a Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. My message to the Upper House was three-pronged: Pot prohibition doesn’t work. It leads to violence, massive costs to the taxpayer, and no reductions in supply or use. And alternatives, including regulation, should be considered.

When I suggested that marijuana prohibition has failed and contributes to organized crime, I took significant heat from others in the law enforcement community. Police chiefs coalesced around the unworkable status quo. Privately, within my department, I received more support. Many cops had had enough of the illicit marijuana industry’s ongoing succession of violence and death, with no end in sight. However, when your job, your pension, and your family’s livelihood are at stake, I understand the average cop’s hesitancy to step out of line and publicly question their superiors.

Today, I must speak for the police officers who cannot.

The endless cycle of gang violence must stop. I have joined Stop the Violence BC, a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, medical and public health officials, and academic experts concerned about the links between cannabis prohibition in B.C. and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province.

STVBC has enlisted current and former B.C. mayors, police officers, attorneys general, health officers and others to help overturn cannabis prohibition and implement a strictly regulated market for the adult consumption of cannabis. As with the end of alcohol prohibition in the 1930s, marijuana regulation today will remove the profits that drive gang violence and create safer, healthier communities.

Today, under cannabis prohibition, youth have easier access to marijuana than alcohol or tobacco. As a law enforcement leader and former Minister of Public Safety who has spent more than 33 years creating and enforcing laws, I know that a strictly regulated marijuana market for adult cannabis use would better protect youth through the use of regulatory tools that have proven so effective in reducing tobacco use.

The taxes resulting from a regulated cannabis market could support our most important public programs, including health and education. Rather than enforcing unworkable laws that breed violence, police would be free to focus on laws that actually protect citizens and improve public safety.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and majority support from British Columbians to reform existing cannabis laws, prohibition remains. It appears nothing has changed since my days on the street. In fact, recent headlines suggest events are worse. Randy Naicker, gang member, shot dead. A Red Scorpion leader gunned down. A full-patch member of the Hells Angels wounded in a public attack. Jonathan Bacon, killed outside a waterfront hotel in Kelowna. Innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time. Retaliation.

For now, until we enact sensible cannabis laws, the beat goes on…

Kash Heed is a long-time law enforcement official, an Adjunct Professor at SFU, and more recently, the MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview. He is encouraging his current and former colleagues, friends, and associates to improve community health and safety by overturning marijuana prohibition. His views are his alone, and do not reflect those of the BC Liberal Party.


Former Attorneys General Endorse Stop the Violence BC

From: Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick Q. C., Geoff Plant Q.C.
To: Hon. Christy Clark, Mr, Adrian Dix
Re: Cannabis taxation and regulation as a strategy to combat organized crime

February 15, 2012

Dear Ms. Clark and Mr. Dix:

Re: Cannabis taxation and regulation as a strategy to combat organized crime

As former BC Attorneys General, we are fully aware that British Columbia lost its war against the marijuana industry many years ago. The case demonstrating the failure and harms of marijuana prohibition is airtight. The evidence? Massive profits for organized crime, widespread gang violence, easy access to illegal cannabis for our youth, reduced community safety, and significant—and escalating—costs to taxpayers.

As Attorneys General, we were the province’s chief prosecutors and were responsible for overseeing the justice system. In this role, we became well aware of the burden imposed on the province’s justice system and court processes by enforcement of marijuana prohibition. We are therefore dismayed that the BC government supports the federal government’s move to impose mandatory minimum sentences for minor cannabis offences. These misguided prosecutions will further strain an already clogged system, without reducing cannabis prohibition-related violence or rates of cannabis use.

The most obvious parallel to today’s marijuana prohibition is the bloodshed and gang warfare that emerged in the United States in the 1920s during alcohol prohibition, and then disappeared when prohibition was repealed in 1933. It is time BC politicians listened to the vast majority of BC voters who support replacing cannabis prohibition in favour of a strictly regulated legal market for adult marijuana use.

BC’s Health Officers Council and the Fraser Institute both support a tax and regulate regime, and a growing group of prominent British Columbians have joined to advocate for the taxation and regulation of marijuana through the Stop the Violence BC coalition. This coalition includes leading minds in public health, law enforcement and law, and we now include our names among their ranks.

While it is easier to take a leadership position on controversial issues once one is out of public office, the fact is that the public is way ahead of politicians on this issue. For instance, a recent Angus Reid poll demonstrated that 77% of British Columbians disagreed that marijuana possession should be a criminal offence and a similar majority were of the opinion that marijuana should be taxed and regulated. Perhaps not surprisingly, this same poll showed that 78% of British Columbians are dissatisfied with the way politicians at the provincial level are responding to the problems stemming from the illegal marijuana industry in BC. It is our opinion that the only solution to this problem is to move away from an unregulated and increasingly violent illegal market, which is largely controlled by organized crime and whose only motive is profit, and towards a strictly regulated legal market whose motive is public health and safety.

We are cognizant of the fact that marijuana laws are federal, but there is still major opportunity for leadership from the provincial government on this matter. We encourage you to act and lead change on what is so obviously an untenable situation. Based on the evidence before us, we ask that you encourage the federal government to abandon mandatory minimum sentences for minor and non-violent marijuana-related offences and instead pursue a taxation and regulation strategy to better protect community health and safety while at the same time undermining gang profits.

We are also copying this letter to federal politicians in BC. We urge them to consider the evidence linking marijuana prohibition to organized crime and gang violence and to accept, as we and other experts do, that taxation and regulation under a public health framework is the only way forward. Cannabis prohibition is the cause of much of the gang violence in this province, and laws that more aggressively enforce prohibition are obviously not the solution.

Laws that have proven ineffective and which cause more harm than good should be repealed. Our current cannabis prohibition laws foster distrust and disrespect for government, police and the legal system. Thanks to the police intelligence efforts of organizations such as the RCMP, it is now commonly accepted knowledge that marijuana prohibition drives organized crime and related violence in BC. Given that, there is an urgency to consider alternatives to prohibition to help improve public health and safety, and prevent more innocent people from being caught in gang crossfire.

The evidence is incontrovertible that cannabis prohibition has been a failure. If you do not support taxation and regulation of marijuana as a strategy to better protect community health and safety, what is your plan to reduce gang violence related to the illegal marijuana trade, ensure the judicial system works efficiently and effectively in the face of escalating convictions, pay for increased prison costs while the BC government runs deficits, and prevent criminal enterprises from targeting BC’s youth for cannabis sales?

All British Columbians are interested in your response to these important questions. With a critical mass of citizens and public health and legal experts now calling for change, the time to use taxation and regulation as a strategy to undermine organized crime is now.

Signed,

Colin Gabelmann Attorney General of BC (1991–1995)
Ujjal Dosanjh P.C. Q.C. 33rd Premier of BC and Attorney General (1995 – 2000)
Graeme Bowbrick Q. C. Attorney General of BC (2000-2001)
Geoff Plant Q.C. Attorney General of BC (2001-2005)

cc: MPs, MLAs and city councils in British Columbia

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