Kash Heed calls for the regulation and taxation of marijuana

BC MLA speaks out against marijuana prohibition in short film, joins Stop the Violence BC


Vancouver, BC [October 18, 2012] — Kash Heed, a long-time law enforcement official and MLA, is calling for the legalization and taxation of cannabis to better protect communities and reduce related organized crime activity resulting from the illegal marijuana trade.

In a video and written statement released today, Kash Heed shared his experiences about the devastating consequences of cannabis prohibition, based on his 31 years in law enforcement as a beat cop, a police chief, and head of both the Vancouver Police Department Drug Unit and Indo-Canadian Gang Violence Task Force.

“In the early 1990s, I began to fully recognize the futility and the social, economic and public health costs of continuing marijuana prohibition,” wrote Heed in the statement. “And I came to one inescapable conclusion—cannabis prohibition fuels gang violence in B.C. In fact, costly law enforcement efforts have only served to drive the marijuana industry deeper into the hands of violent organized crime groups.”

In his statement, Heed announced that he is joining Stop the Violence BC (STVBC), a coalition of academic, legal, law enforcement and health experts, and its campaign to reform cannabis laws to reduce the harms associated with the illegal cannabis trade, including gang violence. He joins a growing list of endorsements that includes a coalition of B.C. mayors, the Health Officers Council of B.C., four former mayors of Vancouver and former B.C. attorneys general. His statement follows the passing last month of a Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) resolution calling for the decriminalization of cannabis.

“It shows real political courage that Kash Heed, as a sitting member of a provincial legislature, has decided to speak out against these failed laws,” said Geoff Plant, who served as B.C. attorney general from 2001 to 2005. “It’s time for the rest of our political leaders to follow his lead and act on the overwhelming evidence linking marijuana prohibition to organized crime and gang violence.”

Kash Heed is the MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview. He is urging his current and former colleagues to improve community health and safety by overturning marijuana prohibition.

“I plan to use my remaining time in office to reach out to our provincial leaders and ensure that replacing cannabis prohibition with a more effective public health and safety strategy becomes a part of the public debate in the next provincial election,” said Heed. “Despite the effort to pass the buck to the federal government, this is a provincial issue—organized crime has been fuelled by B.C.’s failed marijuana policies, leading to gang violence, destructive grow-ops and easy access to marijuana for youth in each and every one of our communities.”

The video was produced and directed by Pete McCormack, an award winning filmmaker based in Vancouver.

“Evidence against marijuana prohibition is staggering: police fight impossible odds and the current approach is hypocritical, a tax-paying sinkhole that causes unintentional yet very real collateral damage and violence. And for what?” said McCormack. “To get the chance to interview Kash Heed, who has been right there in it, was inspiring to me as a filmmaker. If this video can influence other politicians’ and inspire contemporary drug policies, that would be amazing.”

  • Media can download the Kash Heed video here.
  • Watch the video here.
  • Read the full Kash Heed statement here.

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About Stop the Violence BC

Stop the Violence BC is a coalition of law enforcement officials, legal experts, public health officials and academic experts from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and the University of Northern BC. Coalition members have come together to engage all British Columbians in a discussion aimed at developing and implementing marijuana-related policies that improve public health while reducing social harms, including violent crime. For a full listing of coalition members and to learn more about the coalition, please click here.

For more information about Stop the Violence BC or to interview a coalition member, please contact:

Kevin Hollett
604 682 2344 ext 66536

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.