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.

BC Mayors Call for Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana

April 26, 2012

To: Premier Christy Clark, Mr. Adrian Dix and Mr. John Cummins
From: James Baker, Chris Pieper, Derek Corrigan, John Ranns, Howie Cyr, Gregor Robertson, Darrell Mussatto and Robert Sawatzky

Re: Discussion required on marijuana policy

Dear Premier Clark, Mr. Dix and Mr. Cummins:

As mayors of BC municipalities, we are fully aware of the harms stemming from the province’s large illegal marijuana industry. Our communities have been deeply affected by the consequences of marijuana prohibition including large-scale grow-ops, increased organized crime and ongoing gang violence.  Increasing law enforcement costs also significantly impact municipal budgets.

We see a seemingly endless stream of anti-marijuana law enforcement initiatives in our communities, yet marijuana remains widely and easily available to our youth. Based on the evidence before us, we know that laws that aim to control the marijuana industry are ineffective and, like alcohol prohibition in the US in the 1920s, have led to violent unintended consequences.

The case against current marijuana laws is compelling. Despite major taxpayer investments in law enforcement activities, the marijuana market has not been suppressed. Furthermore, the province’s massive illegal marijuana trade drives organized crime in BC and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Organized Crime Agency of BC estimates that organized crime groups control 85% of BC’s marijuana trade, which the Fraser Institute estimates is worth up to $7 billion annually. U.S. federal prosecutors have identified BC-based drug gangs that control the marijuana trade as “the dominant organized crime threat in the Northwest.”

Even though anti-marijuana law enforcement is active and growing, marijuana potency is increasing while price is decreasing. Rates of use remain high. Youth report easier access to marijuana than to tobacco while organized crime reaps massive marijuana-related profits. Given these facts, we conclude that a more effective, evidence-based approach to controlling marijuana is urgently needed.

As BC mayors, we support the Stop the Violence BC campaign. It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework; regulating marijuana would allow the government to rationally address the health concerns of marijuana, raise government tax revenue and eliminate the huge profits from the marijuana industry that flow directly to organized crime. According to public health experts, strict regulation of the marijuana market may also reduce marijuana use. In fact, the success in reducing rates of tobacco use has been achieved through public health regulation, not prohibition.

We are also concerned about the policing and related law enforcement costs that will be placed upon municipalities due to proposed federal mandatory minimum sentencing legislation related to marijuana. Such prescribed and inflexible policies have proven costly and ineffective in the US. We ask you to instead consider how a public health framework that calls for strict marijuana regulation and taxation can help address the intractable problems of gangs and gang violence in BC.

Stop the Violence BC is not alone in its call for a regulated, public health approach to adult marijuana use. The Fraser Institute and the Health Officers Council of BC, among others, have made similar recommendations and your BC public is onside. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, only 12% of British Columbians support the current approach of marijuana prohibition, with the vast majority supporting taxation and regulation.

We recognize and fully understand public dissatisfaction with today’s marijuana laws. Therefore, we will be recommending that the Union of BC Municipalities support a motion in favour of taxation and regulation of marijuana.  We also encourage politicians to speak their conscience, even if their views go beyond the silence coming from the political parties themselves.

Given the ongoing gang activity, widespread availability of marijuana and high costs associated with enforcement, leaders at all levels of government must take responsibility for marijuana policy. We are asking you as provincial leaders to take a new approach to marijuana regulation. Our communities, our youth and our public finances will benefit from an evidence-based, public health approach to marijuana.




James Baker, Mayor Lake Country
Chris Pieper, Mayor of Armstrong
Robert Sawatzky, Mayor of Vernon
Howie Cyr, Mayor of Enderby
John Ranns, Mayor of Metchosin
Darrell Mussatto, Mayor City of North Vancouver
Derek Corrigan, Mayor of Burnaby
Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver

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CC:Mr. Heath Slee, Director
Union of BC Municipalities
60-10551 Shellbridge Way
Richmond, BC V6X 2W9

Global Commission Members Call on Canadian Government to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian Senators
Louise Arbour, Richard Branson, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ruth Dreifuss, and Thorvald Stoltenberg

Re: Reject mandatory minimum sentences under Bill C-10

Dear Prime Minister Harper and Canadian Senators:

We are writing to you on behalf of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is dedicated to reducing harms caused by drugs to people and societies. Our Commission includes global leaders such as the past presidents of Colombia and Mexico; former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; former US Secretary of State George Schultz; and business experts such as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Paul Volcker.

Many Global Commission members have first-hand experience with the violent illegal markets that emerge in drug-producing regions, where corruption, organized crime and violence are inevitable consequences of cannabis prohibition that cannot be successfully addressed by strengthening anti-cannabis law enforcement. We hope that Canada—where both production and consumption are an issue—remains open to new and better ideas.

Building more prisons, tried for decades in the United States under its failed War on Drugs, only deepens the drug problem and does not reduce cannabis supply or rates of use. Instead, North American youth now report easier access to cannabis than to alcohol or tobacco. And yet, today, with the proposed implementation of mandatory prison sentences for minor cannabis-related offences under Bill C-10, Canada is at the threshold of continuing to repeat the same grave mistakes as other countries, moving further down a path that has proven immensely destructive and ineffective at meeting its objectives.

As was the case with alcohol prohibition, evidence shows that increasing the intensity of drug law enforcement through mandatory minimum sentencing and other legal sanctions will not reduce the crime and violence associated with the cannabis industry. Instead, these laws will serve only to further entrench control of the cannabis market in the hands of violent criminals and waste precious tax dollars.

This has been the experience internationally. In fact, among the things that are driving organized crime and violence in British Columbia and other Canadian provinces is, although on a lesser scale, just what is driving the violence in Mexico—demand for drugs in the United States. Tougher drug laws in Canada will not address this root cause. At this late date, we hope that Canada will elect to adopt an evidence-based approach to controlling cannabis, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the proposed path through Bill C-10 is destructive, expensive and ineffective.

Debate about ending cannabis prohibition often pits those in favour of persisting with the damaging and ineffective War on Drugs against those who downplay the risks and harms of cannabis use. Canadians should take a third, evidence-based approach, which is advocated by the Global Commission and local and national organizations such as the Stop the Violence BC coalition. The Global Commission fully endorses the Stop the Violence BC coalition and its call to reduce corruption, organized crime and gang violence by taxing and regulating cannabis use under a public health framework. Indeed, the call is entirely consistent with the recommendations of our first report. Taxation and regulation models should be evaluated, as they have great potential to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and safety of Canadians. Given the experience with tobacco consumption, this approach also has the potential to actually reduce rates of cannabis use while also generating significant tax revenue.

For decades, Canadians and their leaders have embraced positive societal change and the rights of all citizens, not just in Canada but around the world. Canada has a proud international tradition of innovative and realistic policies; tougher drug law enforcement tactics such as mandatory minimum sentencing for minor drug law offences will put a huge strain on Canadian taxpayers, will not have the intended effect of creating safer communities, and will instead further entrench the marijuana industry in the hands of organized crime groups.

The clear path forward to best control cannabis in Canada and other jurisdictions throughout the world is to move away from failed law enforcement strategies and to pursue a public health approach aimed also at undermining the root causes of organized crime. Canada has the opportunity to take a leadership role in implementing such policies. And it would be completely in keeping with Canada’s global reputation as a modern, tolerant and forward-thinking nation.


Louise Arbour
GCDP Commissioner
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
President of the International Crisis Group, Canada

Richard Branson
GCDP Commissioner
Advocate for Social Causes
Founder of the Virgin Group
Co-founder of The Elders, UK

Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Chair, GCDP
Former President of Brazil

Ruth Dreifuss
GCDP Commissioner
Former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs

Thorvald Stoltenberg
GCDP Commissioner
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

cc: Canadian Premiers and Leaders of the Opposition

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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.


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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Health Officers Council Endorses Stop the Violence BC

On December 22, 2011, the Health Officers Council of British Columbia endorsed Stop the Violence BC. Below is the text of their endorsement.

Dear Dr. Wood:

As previously communicated to you, this letter is to confirm that the Health Officers Council of British Columbia (HOC) supports the Stop the Violence initiative and is willing to be publicly identified as an endorser of the work of the coalition.

The work of Stop the Violence BC is important in bringing attention to the harms consequent to the prohibition of cannabis, and proposing solutions. This work is consistent with the work of HOC and we welcome that additional attention that Stop the Violence BC is bringing to these issues.

In particular HOC recognizes the contribution that Stop the Violence BC is making to advancing public dialogue on this issue. We appreciated being able to support that work by providing spokespeople as part of the recent release of the paper How Not to Protect Community Safety.

All the best in your work and please do not hesitate to contact us on your future initiatives.


Paul Hasselback, MD MSc FRCPC
Chair, Health Officers Council

Letter From Former Mayors

November 23, 2011
From: Sam Sullivan, Michael Harcourt, Larry Campbell, and Philip Owen
To: All B.C. MPs, MLAs, Mayors and Councillors

Re: Call to Action – Marijuana prohibition and its effects on violent crime, community safety, and the health and well-being of our citizens

As former Mayors of the City of Vancouver, we are asking all elected leaders in British Columbia to speak out about the ineffectiveness and harms of cannabis prohibition.

Marijuana prohibition is – without question – a failed policy. It is creating violent, gang-related crime in our communities and fear among our citizens, and adding financial costs for all levels of government at a time when we can least afford them. Politicians cannot ignore the status quo any longer; they must develop and deliver alternative marijuana policies that avoid the social and criminal harms that stem directly from cannabis prohibition.

Among the most pressing issues is the contribution that cannabis prohibition has made to organized crime and gang violence. The Fraser Institute has estimated that B.C.’s illegal cannabis trade may be worth up to $7 billion dollars annually. This massive illegal market drives violence in communities throughout the province. New thinking, new policies and collaboration across party lines are required to protect our communities and make them safer.

Unfortunately, research and practical experience from Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere clearly demonstrates that increasing anti-cannabis law enforcement strategies will not reduce the availability to young people. Cannabis prohibition has failed globally. While we fully recognize that marijuana is not without health-related harms, the failure of cannabis prohibition to reduce the availability of the drug to young people requires an urgent and novel response.

We agree with the Stop the Violence BC coalition and the criminologists, economists, lawyers, law enforcement and public health experts under its umbrella: we must move from a violent unregulated market to a strictly regulated cannabis market that is based on a public health framework. We believe a legally regulated market for adult cannabis use has the potential to reduce rates of cannabis use while at the same time directly addressing organized crime concerns by starving them of this cash cow. A regulated market would enable governments to improve community health and safety while at the same time raising millions in tax revenue.

The time for action is now. A recent Angus Reid poll demonstrated that 69% of British Columbians believe that chasing and arresting marijuana producers and sellers is ineffective and that British Columbians would be better off taxing and regulating the adult use of marijuana. We fully agree.

Clearly, elected officials are out of step with their public on marijuana prohibition. It is time that elected officials enter the debate and deliver specific proposals to address the easy availability of cannabis to youth and the organized crime concerns stemming directly from cannabis prohibition.

If you agree, please step forward, join this call for change and add your influential voice to the debate. In addition, we encourage you to notify Stop the Violence BC of your endorsement so that they may profile your support and adjust their education efforts accordingly.

If you disagree, there is nevertheless an ethical and moral obligation to join the debate, because the stakes for our communities, our youth and our fellow British Columbians are so high.

Politicians of all stripes – not just at the federal level – must respond before further damage is done to our B.C. communities. We must break the silence on this issue. The status quo must change.


Sam Sullivan, Mayor of Vancouver, 2005-2008
Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, 2002-2005
Philip Owen, Mayor of Vancouver, 1993-2002
Mike Harcourt, Mayor of Vancouver, 1980-1986

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