Twenty years of investigating gangs and organized crime groups both nationally and internationally has given me insight into how things change. Like most of you, I listen to current events and have witnessed how society has desensitized its tolerance for marijuana. I take no position on the legalization or decriminalization of this product other than to say that democracy is speaking and we will get what we ask for… both good and bad.
Marijuana has already done most of the damage it will ever do.
I have listened regularly to the rhetoric over the years about gang violence in the drug war (identifying marijuana as the culprit) and the transition of language from “pot” to “medicine”. Recently, a university student who was completing her thesis on organized crime, requested an interview with me. She had completed some academic research on the subject, but what triggered me was the question of “what dangers do I see with the eventual legalization of marijuana?
My answer seemed to surprise her…”Marijuana has already done most of the damage it will ever do”. I will explain… We are fortunate in Canada, to have a multicultural community (particularly in BC) that brings fresh ideas and different ways of doing thing from all over the world. We are attached to a large and active port, and bordered with the biggest market in the world.
The growth of Canada’s criminal marijuana industry
Other crime groups were left with lower levels of distribution and could not grow substantially until the movement towards marijuana began.
Twenty years ago, marijuana was relatively new in Canada from a standpoint of production and use. I witnessed the growth of small urban “grow ops” develop over time, along with a constant demand for “BC bud” that rivaled any other product in the world. Our multicultural blend of criminals realized the opportunity marijuana presented. At this particular time, cocaine and synthetic drugs were rare to find and the only real drug market was Southeast Asian heroin. This was a very exclusive market and very difficult for many criminal groups to get in at the wholesale level. Asian crime groups with their affiliates in Canada controlled pricing and distribution. Other crime groups were left with lower levels of distribution and could not grow substantially until the movement towards marijuana began.
As demand grew, so did the infrastructure supporting the marijuana industry. The major problem with marijuana is that it requires significant expertise, gardeners, materials, infrastructure, transport issue, money exchange and brokers in order for the business to survive. At first glance, this could be seen as a deterrent in the market place, but in fact the opposite effect occurred. Everyone got involved, bringing expertise in support of the criminal enterprise. It became the Klondike of the drug trade.
Grow ops became more sophisticated and covert, requiring electricians, carpenters and contractors to run hydro bypasses, venting systems and underground bunkers to avoid detection. Hydroponic outlets popped up everywhere in support of the specialized equipment needed. Plants needed to be cared for, clipped and harvested, generating jobs for unemployed people and students. Real estate agents, notaries, mortgage lenders became involved finding and securing the “right” properties for a grow operation.
Marijuana is bulky and difficult to conceal. At first, couriers were used to run large hockey bags across the border making detection rather simple. This problem generated another growth industry…covert transportation. Commercial and private vehicles were rigged with hidden compartments; truckers were paid to take pot across the border, buried in their legitimate product. Trains, planes, helicopters, boats, seadoos, snowmobiles, hikers, kayaks and even underground tunnels were used to transport the product to fulfill the demand in the United Stated. Currency was also a problem…changing Canadian for US dollars needed to occur. Money exchange companies popped up everywhere eventually leading to advanced money laundering techniques and expertise to move and exchange currency anywhere in the world.
Marijuana was drug marketing 101
Through Marijuana, we had developed the marketing skills, transportation infrastructure, capital and expertise .
So what does this all mean? Everyone learned about the drug trade, how it works and how to make money from it. Criminals that should have never survived in this underground market thrived. It brought expertise and opportunity from all over the world, participating and creating new markets. Now that our organized crime groups were flush with money, markets and worldwide contacts, new opportunities were explored. Synthetic drug products were introduced, and eventually local super labs started up, supporting methamphetamines and ecstasy for U.S. and world markets. Cocaine availability in Canada skyrocketed because of demand, transportation efficiencies and strong connection with South American drug cartels. The same vehicle that brought Marijuana south was bringing cocaine North … after all, through Marijuana, we had developed the marketing skills, transportation infrastructure, capital and expertise to move to other markets.
Canada is now considered a source country for many drugs with new synthetic products being developed. Many of the organized crime groups that capitalized on marijuana have diversified to other lucrative markets. The successful criminals are so removed from the low hanging fruit that police focus on, have become relatively untouchable. So in answer to my university student’s question… marijuana has already done most its damage.
In conclusion, we live in a great place; a high standard of living, freedom and a relatively safe and healthy environment. We are a law a biding society, bound by laws and procedures that guide our daily activities. The growth of the marijuana industry revealed that people are driven to succeed and can adapt to change. As Charles Darwin once said…It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. The Internet has significantly increased our ability to learn things both good and bad. Creating a profile, perception or a new identity has never been easier and so has authenticating a person’s past. As the planet shrinks, it has become more important to examine who we let into our lives.