Tag Archives: vancouver sun

Anti-Olympic Protests and Activism – Article roundup

NOTE: When possible, articles are shared in full for historical record and annotated with original link when source is broken and/or accessed from Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine or Google cache etc. during Feb. 2017.

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Media coverage about homelessness and Olympics:

Stop the War on the Poor, says DTES Protestors
24 Hours, March 15, 2009

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Downtown Eastside residents angry at police crackdown via Wayback Machine – original
Canadian Press > CBC News, March 15, 2009

About 100 people gathered in wet weather to protest the Vancouver police crackdown.
About 100 people gathered in wet weather to protest the Vancouver police crackdown. (CBC)

Residents of Vancouver’s poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside protested Sunday against what they see as a pre-Olympic police strategy to drive them off the streets through petty ticketing and random identification checks.

About 100 people showed up outside a police station on Main Street — formerly the department’s headquarters — in the heart of the gritty neighbourhood.

Pelted by wet snow flurries, speakers angrily rejected the police business plan that calls for more tickets to be issued for bylaw infractions such as jaywalking and street vending — laws they say aren’t enforced in Vancouver’s nicer neighbourhoods.

Clyde Wright of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said members “have been ticketed for offences such as stepping off the curb unsafely, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, having no helmet, having no bell on their bike.”

The police plan calls for more summons to be issued to enforce the fines, which Wright said are a hardship on residents living on social assistance.

“This is targeted harassment of poor people,” he told the rally.

Protesters set up a sidewalk sale hoping to attract police attention, but officers stayed clear, instead blocking the street to traffic as the rally spilled off the sidewalk.

Crackdown aims to make streets safer: police

The police business plan, released in January, outlines various tactics it says is aimed at curbing street disorder in what is perhaps the poorest neighbourhood in Canada.

It sets targets for charges under the provincial Safe Streets Act and Trespass Act and requires each police Beat Enforcement Team shift to conduct a minimum number of identification checks in the neighbourhood.

Another tactic involves not laying charges for simple drug possession, instead seizing the drugs to avoid lengthy paperwork that keeps officers off the street for hours at a time.

David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the crackdown seems to be an attempt to clean up the Downtown Eastside before the Olympics.
David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the crackdown seems to be an attempt to clean up the Downtown Eastside before the Olympics. (CBC)

No one from the Vancouver Police Department was available Sunday to comment on the protesters’ complaints, but spokespeople in the past have said police are trying to crack down on street disorder because residents want to feel safe.

But David Eby, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who attended the rally, said he believes the 2010 Winter Games have a lot to do with the plan.

“It’s hard for me to imagine this isn’t related to the Olympics,” he said. “It’s an entirely new initiative. More tickets than have ever been given out in a very short period of time.

“The goal is to harass the people who are living on the street down here, who are addicted to drugs or mentally ill or just too poor to even survive anywhere else. To harass them into other neighbourhoods and spread the problem out over the city.”

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Alternate Version:

Downtown Eastside residents protest police ‘street sweeps’
CBC > The Canadian Press, Mar 15, 2009

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Police cracking down on poor: Activists
Metro Vancouver News, March 16, 2009

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Police accused of harassing the poor with nuisance tickets – via Internet Archive Wayback machine – original 
The Province News, March 15, 2009, Ian Austin

VANCOUVER — Downtown Eastside activists took their protests of police harassment to the steps of the Vancouver police station Sunday.

The activists, who want to know why public money is spent to lay nuisance charges such as jaywalking, set up a garage sale at the entry to the station at 312 Main St.

“At a time when there is so much concern in the region about gun violence, all these police resources are being used handing out tickets to people who will never be able to afford to pay them,” said Ann Livingston, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. “I find it unbelievable.

“It is further marginalizing people who are already struggling to survive.”

Under a portable tent structure, a group sold a variety of goods to protest tickets for unauthorized “vending.”

“The poverty in this area has been put on the police business plan as a crime issue,” said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “People can’t afford these tickets — it’s $100, and that’s almost one-third of the $375 they have to live on each month.”

Priscilla Mays of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre accused the police of trying to sweep the streets before the Olympics.

“It is not a coincidence that the increased ticketing is happening in the lead-up to the Olympic Games,” she said. “It is happening to ensure that residents live in a state of fear and intimidation so that the [Downtown Eastside] is cleansed of poor and homeless people in time for the tourists.”

City Coun. Kerry Jang said the ticketing is part of the Project Civil City campaign that’s a leftover from the previous city government.

“We are speaking with the police of a different approach,” said Jang. “Our solution is to create more housing.”

iaustin@theprovince.com

Downtown Eastside residents fear they’ll be jailed during Games
Canada.com > Vancouver Sun, Feb. 16, 2009 (Press Reader.com version available)

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Some people can’t afford to pay fines given during ticketing sweep for civil disorder
Canada.com > Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2009 (Pressreader.com version available)

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Police crackdown not welcome
24 HOURS News, February 16, 2009, by Matt Kieltyka

Downtown Eastside residents are feeling a little uneasy with the Olympics fast approaching and it starts with the police, protesters say.

Supporters of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre took to Pigeon Park yesterday to protest aggressive bylaw enforcement by police.

The women – backed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and Carnegie Community Action Project – say a 50 per cent spike in tickets issued to DTES residents last year is criminalizing poverty.

“People are being ticketed for basically being in the street,” said organizer Harsha Walia.

Walia believes that enforcement – many for acts such as jaywalking and loitering – is being conducted “to make sure the Downtown Eastside is cleaned up for the Olympics.”

BCCLA acting director David Eby said the tickets have a knock-on effect, through court no-go orders, that prevent people from accessing essential services in the Downtown Eastside.

Pivot lawyer Douglas King says his agency is helping people dispute the infractions in court.

He has also called on city council to eradicate former mayor Sam Sullivan’s Project Civil City, an initiative King says has opened the door for aggressive ticketing.

“The city voted against Civil City when Gregor Robertson was elected,” King said.

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Downtown Eastside residents say tickets unfair
CTV News, February 15, 2009

The 2010 Olympics are being blamed for police sweeps and aggressive ticketing in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — is where addicts can openly inject drugs on the street — but jaywalking is an offense that comes with a ticket and a fine of $25 for people who can least afford to pay.

Activists say police are giving out more and more tickets to clean up the Downtown Eastside in time for the Games. And they claim the tactics are wreaking havoc for the most needy.

“I think that’s ridiculous, they wouldn’t do that on Granville, they wouldn’t do that on Robson, and people do that over there,” said local resident Paula Potter.

Vancouver police issued a flurry of tickets in the Downtown Eastside last year. Community groups say officers are targeting residents for minor infractions.

“We’re seeing things like ticketing for jaywalking, spitting, and “illegal” vending,” said Harsha Walia of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

It’s being executed as part of the province’s Safe Streets Act, passed in 2004 to crack down on aggressive panhandling, and championed by former Mayor Sam Sullivan. The mayor came up with his “project civil city” plan in response in order to deal with public disorder.

Last year, officers issued 467 tickets for violations under the safe streets act, more than double the previous year, the majority of them in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside.

Residents say it’s all about maintaining an image before the Olympics.

And there are plans to increase ticketing the area even more. According to the VPD’s draft business plan for 2009, the target is a minimum of four street checks per officer per block.

“It’s totally unfair and totally disrespectful,” said Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project.

“Imagine how you would feel if you had no money and stepped off the pavement and you got a ticket for jaywalking, knowing nobody cares about your safety, that really it’s about scooping you off the streets for the Olympics.”

Not paying the ticket can mean ending up in jail or being banned from the neighbourhood.

The fight will go to court this week. Residents are being encouraged to contest their tickets on Tuesday.

With a report by CTV British Columbia’s Jina You.

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“Downtown Eastside crackdown misguided, groups say”
Globe & Mail, February 12, 2009, Frances Bula

If Doug Everitt lived anywhere besides the Downtown Eastside, he doubts he’d be getting the kinds of tickets from police he does.

The 50-year-old construction worker has had five in the past few months, some for riding his bike without a helmet, some for jaywalking on the streets near the residential hotel where he’s been living.

“I just feel like I get targeted because it’s something they can hold over my head so they can get me off the street when they need to, like the Olympics,” said Mr. Everitt, who has had his struggles with drugs and is now on methadone. “And it’s gotten a lot more aggressive lately.”

What he’s noticing is the effects of the Vancouver Police Department’s new 2009 business plan, which set new targets for ticketing and street checks in the Downtown Eastside to maintain public order.

The neighbourhood, home to a high concentration of poor, mentally ill and drug-addicted residents, is infamous for its pockets of chaos, with crowds of people selling random articles on the sidewalk or gathering in alleys to buy and sell drugs.

The police plan, which was initiated in December but made public two weeks ago, is coming under fire from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and AIDS groups for the way it targets people like Mr. Everitt because they live in a particular neighbourhood.

They say the crackdown, which envisions banning people from the neighbourhood if they accumulate enough tickets, actually endangers people’s health, since it prevents the drug-addicted and marginalized from accessing the numerous services in the Downtown Eastside aimed specifically at their problems.

The groups sent a public letter to Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu objecting to the new plan, which set a goal of issuing 20 per cent more tickets for bylaw offences, 10 per cent more tickets under the provincial Safe Streets Act, and requiring any beat officers to do at least four random “street checks” per block every day.

“This doesn’t solve any of the underlying issues,” said David Eby, a lawyer with the civil liberties association.

His association’s letter, which was also signed by six AIDS organizations, noted that “bylaw offences identified for targeting by the Vancouver police appear to be those most closely associated with dire poverty, including sleeping outside and street vending.”

The police crackdown is also prompting concern from other social-service agencies in the area.

Mark Townsend, who runs a non-profit that operates a number of residential hotels for people who have psychiatric or addiction problems, said many of their residents are getting ticketed. One resident, who is mentally ill, is now afraid to go outside for fear of being arrested.

Mr. Eby noted that a scientific study on the effects of a previous crackdown, called Operation Torpedo, showed that more aggressive policing succeeded mainly in spreading drug and public-disorder problems to Commercial Drive, Broadway and the West End.

Operation Torpedo started in 2003 and tapered off about a year later. It increased the numbers of beat police and even saw officers on horseback going through the neighbourhood.

The police chief at the time, Jamie Graham, said the department was moving to more aggressive policing to create some order in the neighbourhood and make it more livable for residents intimidated by the level of drug-dealing and general mayhem.

But critics say that approach doesn’t really get rid of anything.

“Yes, the Downtown Eastside is chaotic but just because the chaos is spread out over a larger area doesn’t solve the problem,” Mr. Eby said.

Vancouver city Councillor George Chow said his Vision party, which dominates council, hasn’t formalized a specific response to the police plan. But he did note that he and his colleagues are pushing for other measures to try to control street disorder in the Downtown Eastside, like finding indoor places for dumpster divers to refurbish or sell what they have collected.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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‘Street sweeps’ protested Downtown Eastside groups oppose ticketing campaign
The Province Newspaper, February 16, 2009

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“Was London 2012 or Vancouver 2010 the First Social Media Olympics?” from Vancouver Sun

Former VANOC communications chief Graeme Menzies compiled opinions after he asked, “Vancouver vs. London: who hosted first social media Olympics?” as part of an article in Vancouver Sun on July 24, 2012 called “Vancouver was home to the first social media Olympics, not London

Dave Olson Talks to Vancouver Sun at SXSW

Dave Olson, community director at Hootsuite, created quite buzz at SXSW with their panel Big In Japan this week.

Talking SXSW 2011 with Vancouver Sun

At SXSW 2011, i enjoyed a quick talk with Dean Broughton of the Vancouver Sun about the Big in Japan panel, our other events and the craziness on the streets of Austin.

Vancouver Sun article about fan-centric MovieSet culture in action

Dave Olson, Director of Fan Communities

Note: Cross posted from: Vancouver Sun Article helps spread the fan-centric MovieSet Vision

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Gillian Shaw of the Vancouver Sun newspaper shared the MovieSet story with her readers in an article called “Online and on the set” on June 9, 2009.

The article ran as a full page on the Entertainment section and you can explore two versions online in both the Technology and Entertainment sections. The print edition includes a screenshot of the Behind the Scenes vidcast show with Shaun and Eric, while the online version features a video with Director of Fan Communities Dave Olson giving a tour of MovieSet.com (including Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus).

The article kicks off by asking: Care to wander onto the set of a movie shoot, chat with the actors, see the inside story on the stunts?

Well, do you?

This kind of set access has been the goal of MovieSet CEO Colleen Nystedt since 2005 and she continues to educate and push her industry forward with the belief that there is a universal interest in how movies are made and that the action on-set is something fans care about. MovieSet seeks to satisfy that hunger by delivering value to both the film industry, with the suite of production tools, and to all passionate movie fans, by providing exclusive access to great content.

{snip}

The article quotes the erstwhile leader of the “social media renegades,” Dave Olson, who relates the focus on fan participation as the key to traffic growth and enthusiasm for the site, using our recent Death Warrior campaign as an example (links added):

For small very specialized films, such as Death Warrior, a mixed martial arts film that included livestream video among its offerings for fans, Movieset allowed it to find a core audience that shared a passion for the action film.

“We found out where fans of that genre hang out, we communicated with them in their language and we invited them to take part,” said Olson. “We even gave away the bloody sweatshirt that Georges St-Pierre was killed in to a fan at the end of it.”

Finally, Ms. Shaw’s article outlines some of the other tactics we’ve used to bring movie fans behind the scenes and a call to action for movie makers of all kinds ~ from indies to majors ~ to hop aboard the MovieSet cluetrain:

“The site’s front page is refreshed daily and we’re outreaching to fans through Twitter, a Facebook trivia application and a behind-the-scenes vid cast,” said Olson.

While it still goes against the grain to loosen their grip on content, traditional studios are stepping aboard.

“Studios one by one are starting to realize there is some value here,” said Olson. “They see it is a conversation that is going on and it will go on without them.

“They are saying ‘we should start to participate whether we want to or not.’”

Dave Olson gives a tour of MovieSet.com

Indeed, there are now excellent examples which demonstrate the power of MovieSet’s two-headed monster. Cast and Crew members are employing our tools to streamline their daily workflow, they deliver content directly to their movies page including still photos, videos, news, or blog posts.

Once uploaded, the rich content gives the social media conversationalists an opportunity to reach out to an engaged community of fans interested in the film. Fans then become active contributors by following, supporting and commenting throughout each phase of production. And so on, and so on …

Read the full article: Online and on the set by Gillian Shaw (@gillianshaw on Twitter) in the Vancouver Sun, June 9, 2009 – please consider leaving a comment or sharing with your movie fan and filmmaker friends.

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Online and on the set Attached as .pdf

Hockey Canada logo and others banned by IOC – Inside the 2010 Olympics

Hockey Canada logo and others banned by IOC – Inside the 2010 Olympics via Vancouver Sun, February 10, 2009, By Jeff Lee

NOTE: Respectfully shared in full for historical record and educational use. Original links and date intact for context.

On Olympic security and having a beard via Inside the 2010 Olympics

On Olympic security and having a beard – Inside the 2010 Olympics, Feb. 6, 2009, By Jeff Lee

NOTE: Respectfully shared in full for historical record and educational use. Original links and date intact for context.

In-trouble Michael Phelps coming to Vancouver – Inside the 2010 Olympics

In-trouble Michael Phelps coming to Vancouver – Inside the 2010 Olympics By Jeff Lee, 5 FEB, 2009

Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun writes about the Emerging Medical Cannabis Economy

This is simply too important of an article to not spread around. Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun is the only MSM journalist in Vancouver who really speaks out sensibly and professionally about the pragmatic economics and realistic public policy options about cannabis in BC and Canada.

Thanks Ian for excellent work (PS Would you like to be a guest on a Choogle on podcast?)

Copied from the Vancouver Sun article: A bright green spot in the economy

A bright green spot in the economy

With courts striking down the government’s monopoly on supplying medical marijuana, private growers are clamouring to capitalize on pot’s commercial potential

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Photo: Various types of marijuana are offered by former NDP candidate Dana Larsen at his marijuana dispensary on East Hastings Street. He says the medical pot market is about to expand.CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun “Various types of marijuana are offered by former NDP candidate Dana Larsen at his marijuana dispensary on East Hastings Street. He says the medical pot market is about to expand.”

DUNCAN – Eric Nash can barely contain his excitement waiting to hear from Health Canada whether he can start growing marijuana for 250 patients.

That would be just the start. There are tens of thousands more who are ailing across the country clamouring for his organic B.C. bud.

“There is a great opportunity here for the government to collect significant tax revenue currently being lost to the street market,” Nash, one of the best-known legal cannabis producers, enthused.

“With the current global financial crisis, this court ruling is certainly a bright light in dark economic times. We’re just waiting for clarification. I figure our production would increase significantly from several pounds to 150 pounds or more immediately.”

Now that the Federal Court of Appeal has struck down the government’s monopoly on supplying medical marijuana, Nash believes commercial agricultural production of pot is around the corner and the sky’s the limit.

His local company, Island Harvest, has cleared the industrial security regulatory hurdles so the company meets the standards set by Ottawa to grow the much-demonized plant.

“Our vision is to have a sustainable commercial agriculture operation,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t achieve that. Look at the number of compassion clubs, look at the number of people using marijuana to relieve a headache or pre-menstrual cramps!”

More and more research is supporting previous anecdotal evidence that cannabis may have a wide range of therapeutic uses from the treatment of Alzheimer’s, depression, glaucoma, epilepsy and cancer to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and ADD/ADHD. Its most ardent promoters say cannabis may be an addition to the modern pharmacopeia that rivals Aspirin in the breadth of its applications.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the potential profits are staggering.

Until now, the government’s poorly administered medical program has artificially depressed that market by making it difficult for patients to qualify, supplied what many consider poor-quality marijuana and imposed an arbitrary restriction on qualified licensed growers to supplying only two patients.

Doctors, too, have exacerbated the situation with their reluctance to prescribe marijuana, claiming they have no guide on dosage or the usual pharmaceutical medical studies to rely on. That is changing, slowly.

Nash explained there have been three relatively recent, serious analyses of the medical marijuana market, which give an idea of its scope and potential.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal did a survey in 2000 and estimated the number of self-medicating marijuana patients to be 1.9 per cent of the population; a Price Waterhouse report prepared for Health Canada two years later concluded it was more like four per cent of the population, and a report in 2004 by a member of the federal government’s advisory committee on pot suggested the reality was closer to seven per cent.

(Health Canada, after eight years, has issued roughly 2,500 exemption permits to needy patients.)

Regardless, Nash said, based on the four-per-cent model, that puts sales at more than $400 million annually.

More optimistic projections say the medical market, including ancillary products such as vaporizers and paraphernalia, could be as high as $20 billion.

Add it up: The government sells maybe $1 million a year worth of the pot produced in a Manitoba mine, and compassion clubs across the country sell about $10 million worth of cannabis products.

By far the vast majority of patients who need marijuana as a medicine continue to buy their drugs from the black market. It’s a crazy situation: imagine if diabetics had to go to a corner dealer to score insulin.

That’s one of the fundamental reasons behind the court ruling Oct. 27: the medical marijuana program set up by Ottawa at the turn of the millennium isn’t working.

The government adopted the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) and accompanying bureaucracy in 2001. It has modified it since then in the face of judicial warnings that it was constitutionally inadequate, but it still can’t pass muster.

The courts find that offensive.

This new judgment heralds a tectonic shift in the country’s medical-marijuana regulatory regime and perhaps even the drug laws. It may even invalidate the cannabis prohibition.

Two B.C. Supreme Court justices sitting on separate cases (one about simple possession, the other production and trafficking) are currently seized with that question.

If they agree that because a section of medical program is unconstitutional the criminal law cannot be enforced, it would also mark the triumph of a Trojan horse strategy by cannabis activists to achieve legalization by expanding medical access.

Just as liquor was once obtained via prescription, cannabis could be regulated in a similar fashion, obviating the need for a criminal prohibition.

No matter how you look at it, the federal court decision promises an economic boon immediately for the hundreds of legal cannabis producers and increased opportunity for many others.

Nash said it was good news for both the consumer and producer.

The former government communications worker and his partner, Wendy Little, have been growing since 2002 and proselytizing longer than that. Their book Sell Marijuana Legally is a huge hit; they created an online users’ group for patients and growers, and they teach courses.

But medical growers across the country have been restricted, a policy that results in a huge gift of revenue to organized crime.

B.C. BUD’S STAGGERING NUMBERS

Stephen Easton, an economist at Simon Fraser University and with the Fraser Institute, has done the most respected work on the size of the domestic pot industry.

He sat down earlier this year in Denny’s with one of B.C.’s biggest dealers and went over his numbers.

“He figured it out differently than I did, using lights and ballasts,” Easton said. “But he worked out the numbers with me and it all worked out. He told me it was very close. He was quite surprised. I was very happy about that. We had a really good talk. He was really helpful for me.”

Since Easton’s original estimates, the domestic marijuana market has undergone some changes, but nothing cataclysmic.

“The fluctuations in the dollar are the main economic factor,” he said. “It has gone up and down and that pushes these guys.”

For most of the last few years, the most significant factor has been the various improvements in border security triggered by the 9/11 terrorist strikes.

In the 1990s and even throughout the early part of this decade, tons and tons of Canadian marijuana flooded into the U.S. market carried by anyone with moxy and a decent plan.

People were backpacking across with as much weed as they could carry in the Interior, or kayaking across with a stash of bud worth as much as emeralds.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Canadian pot market doubled in size fuelled primarily by the increased hydroponic production of B.C. bud.

Nationally, we apparently spent $1.8 billion toking up — just shy of the $2.3 billion we burned on tobacco.

By 2006, when he did his calculations, Easton said the numbers indicated a provincial wholesale market of $2.2 billion. You could increase that to $7.7 billion retail if consumers paid top dollar for their bud.

That dwarfed any other B.C. agricultural product.

The result on the street was easy to see: a proliferation of gangs duly documented by the RCMP, as every crook plucked what Easton called “the low-hanging fruit.”

The tightening of the border has had several effects.

Not just everyone can take it across now, with underground sensors, heightened air traffic scrutiny and the deployment of the military. Smuggling now is more the purview of the very organized and the very desperate.

At the same time, U.S. authorities have charted the rise of their own domestic production as American states relaxed enforcement and sentencing — the opposite of the 1980s and 1990s when their stiff attitude drove marijuana growers north.

In California alone, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and San Francisco all have officially told police to make marijuana offences their lowest priority.

EVOLVING PRODUCTION

Pot production in California rivals Canada’s total output.

Similar initiatives have been adopted in other states and cities such as Seattle, Denver and even Missoula, Mont.

With the north-south route to market more problematic, more B.C. bud has moved east to feed eastern appetites or find a less monitored area of the border before turning south. The Mounties have responded by increasing surveillance along the Trans-Canada on the Prairies, resulting in large seizures.

By far the biggest factor in the marijuana market in recent years, however, has been the revolution in production — the ease, predictability and most importantly the portability that has come with advances in indoor cultivation that mean great weed can be grown anywhere.

The RCMP have been reporting huge busts in Eastern Canada as production has sprouted in the Maritimes and Ontario, reducing their appetite for West Coast pot.

In Ontario, whose provincial production is said to have surpassed B.C.’s, authorities have uncovered two separate operations each capable of producing $100 million worth of cannabis a year.

B.C. bud ruled in the 1990s when the underground marijuana trade was responsible for keeping afloat many small communities buffeted by resource-market gales.

Our pot even had cachet even up until four or five years ago but these days, be you in Charlottetown or Joe Batt’s Arm, Nfld., you can easily obtain good seeds and fail-safe equipment and within a few months be producing marijuana to rival B.C.’s best.

Nevertheless, Easton explained, when you are looking at a commodity and domestic production, it’s all about the money.

The rise of the dollar in recent years worked against growers and exporters, but its recent fall provides an upward fillip.

“I imagine with all the market turmoil the domestic marijuana industry will pick up a bit,” Easton said. “it’s just had a 15-to-20-per-cent bump in two months.”

Some estimates in the 1990s suggested as much as 50 cents of every dollar generated in some Kootenay towns could be traced directly to pot.

With the international financial tempest wreaking havoc again with commodity prices, B.C. bud may yet help ride out the storm but probably not to the same extent.

“We’ll just have to watch housing prices in Nelson,” Easton laughed.

MEXICO CONSIDERING LEGALIZATION

Sitting in Kitsilano eating breakfast before meeting the city’s police board, former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Celerino Castillo III nodded his head furiously.

“Yes, yes, it’s all about the money,” he said. “The money, it’s all so corrupt.”

Castillo spent 12 years in the USDA infiltrating Manhattan drug rings, destroying jungle cocaine labs and training anti-narcotics agents. The climax of his career was pulling the curtain back on drug-smuggling by the Nicaraguan Contras with links to Lt.-Col. Oliver North and the CIA.

From the Amazon to the slums of Mexico City to the ghettos of America, Castillo has had a front-row seat on the western hemisphere’s drug world and come to the conclusion it’s time to abandon our current approach.

Mexico is again considering legalization because of the violence and social upheaval caused by illicit drug trafficking, and Canada should be headed down the same path, he says. So should South America and, of course, the U.S.

The money is too corrosive.

“The corruption is everywhere — every month we arrest a law enforcement official, every month,” he insisted, “whether it’s a border patrol agent or a customs agent or a DEA agent or an FBI agent. We arrest a law enforcement officer once a month, It’s huge. The amount of money is just so big. ‘I have a mortgage to pay, I have to send my kids to college.’ That’s always the excuse.”

He shakes his head.

He explained that in his state, drug couriers once arrived with suitcases of cash to deposit in local banks: “Now they buy the banks. Especially now with this upheaval. Who else has the ready cash?”

He laughed.

“But that’s actually how they’re money-laundering today — they buy a bank,” Castillo added. “There’s no way we can keep up.”

In retirement, Castillo has become a featured speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an association of former police, corrections and judicial officers who want to change drug policy.

“There’s more production, more product and more of everything than there ever was. The war on drugs doesn’t work,” he said.

“All I’m hoping for is people to start to listen and educate themselves about what’s going on in the world,” he said. “I know first-hand. I’ve seen it from an agent’s point of view.

“It’s affecting and destroying a lot of families. For 40 years we’ve been trying this John Wayne approach and it’s not working. The bottom line: There are a lot more drugs today than we had 40 years ago.”

‘THESE ARE THE DEALING TABLES’

Dana Larsen ushers me into his new marijuana dispensary in the 800 block of East Hastings Street.

The former NDP candidate, who stepped down during the federal election when his recreational drug use was publicized, has renovated the run-down storefront and is promoting a new compassion club.

Like Nash, he thinks the medical pot market is about to expand exponentially and legally.

“There’s no smoking in here,” he said as he showed me around the spartan office. “But there’s a vapour lounge two doors down in the Seed Bank where you can light up after you leave.”

There is a modest reception area and a large back room. It’s clean but unfinished.

“These are the dealing tables,” he said, pointing to a handful of folding tables separated by office screens to provide a measure of privacy.

He laughed.

“I guess I should call them dispensing tables.”

Larsen, who used to be the leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party and Prince of Pot Marc Emery’s lieutenant, thinks the time has come to move into the medical field.

“I think there’s enough of a market in town to support another dispensary,” Larsen said.

“There are more than enough patients who need reliable, quality cannabis products than the current two clubs in the city provide.”

His menu of cannabis products included six strains of dried marijuana, four kinds of hash, two pot products in capsules and double-strength bon-bons — cannabis-infused organic chocolates.

The pot ranged in price from $7.50 a gram for Pine Cross up to $8 a gram for Sweet Tooth; pressed Kif (soft hash made with a sieve) went for $8 a gram; and very potent Bubblehash, which was extracted using water and ice rather than a sieve, went for $25 a gram.

In Oakland, Calif., the private dispensaries that support the state’s medical marijuana program are said to be generating revenues in excess of $70 million a year.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA COULD HELP THE SICK

Michelle Rainey is one of roughly 2,500 Canadians with a licence to possess and use marijuana. She’s also a celebrity in the medical marijuana world and on YouTube.

Rainey has Crohn’s disease and finds her home-grown pot an effective replacement for her previous expensive regimen of pharmaceutical drugs.

She believes the country’s health-care system could save a fortune if there was a working medical marijuana program, and those who could benefit from cannabis could easily shift away from other medications.

The roughly 110,000 Canadians suffering from Crohn’s disease and the 90,000 living with ulcerative colitis, for example, are estimated to spend $162 million a year for prescription drugs.

Many of those people are already benefiting from marijuana, Rainey said, but many, many more could be.

Consider too that many battling cancer and HIV/AIDS find edible cannabis products work to stimulate the appetite, but they’ve got to buy them on the street.

“We have a huge problem with physicians being apprehensive about signing for patients even though the proof is there,” Rainey said.

“Our seniors, for instance, are spending their pensions on big pharma only to end up with more aches and pains when all they may need is a puff or a brownie!”

Rainey has facilitated more than 70 exemptions for local patients, 30 suffering from Crohn’s: “I receive dozens of e-mails from people suffering every day from all over the world who have discovered cannabis alleviates pain and nausea. The government should not be preventing people from getting access to an effective medicine.”

The courts agree.

In its decision, the Federal Court of Appeal did more than simply hand Ottawa a legal loss. It said the government had been knowingly dragging its heels since at least 2003.

As a result, lawyer Kirk Tousaw told B.C. Supreme Court that this decision renders the criminal law invalid based on that history of jurisprudence, which ties enforceability of the criminal law to the existence of a constitutionally adequate medical access scheme.

He said the judgments in Ontario courts and now the federal court mean the state of the law is unclear and therefore criminal sanctions cannot be imposed.

In this latest case — called Sfetkopoulos et al v. Attorney General of Canada — some 27 patients with exemptions to possess marijuana for medicinal use applied to Health Canada for authorization to designate Carasel Harvest Supply Corporation as their marijuana producer.

Health Canada refused, saying that violated the regulations that restricted growers to supplying only two patients at a time.

But the Federal Court Trial Division agreed with the patients and declared section 41 (b.1) of the MMAR was contrary to s. 7 of the Charter because it threatened their liberty and security of the person by preventing them from choosing their marijuana producer.

The judge accepted that sick people should have access to marijuana for the treatment of serious medical conditions and they should not be forced to risk imprisonment to buy their medication on the black market.

He interpreted the constitutional guarantee of security of person rights to include access to medication without undue state interference.

Ottawa appealed and lost.

COURT REBUKES GOVERNMENT

The appeal court agreed with the trial judge — the medical marijuana scheme was constitutionally deficient — and rebuked the government.

The three judges said the Crown had brought forward a case dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2003, that nothing had changed and the marijuana access regulations remained flawed.

In the unanimous 2003 decision, the justices similarly complained about Ottawa’s failure to deal properly with this issue.

In their terse three-page decision a fortnight ago, the justices refused to suspend the impact of their ruling to give the government time to amend the regulations.

Health Canada spokesman Phillipe Laroche said the department was still studying the ruling and had not decided on its response.

Now, Tousaw has argued that those charged or convicted while the medical marijuana access scheme was deemed unconstitutional should have their convictions overturned or their charges stayed. That’s thousands of Canadians.

In particular, Tousaw says Ryan Poelzer should have his conviction overturned.

Poelzer was charged May 18, 2007 and there is no disagreement about the facts. He was smoking a joint on a B.C. Ferry as it pulled into Langdale and that offended an off-duty cop who called the RCMP. As he stepped off the ferry, Poelzer was arrested and in his backpack police found 78.3 grams of marijuana, 8.6 grams of hash, and assorted paraphernalia and pro-drug literature.

In spite of Tousaw’s argument that the cannabis prohibition was invalid, or alternatively that the status of the prohibition is so confused that prosecution constituted an abuse of process, the provincial court judge in the case decided B.C. jurisprudence had declared the medical marijuana scheme valid and therefore the criminal law was fine and Poelzer in clear violation of it.

But Tousaw says the B.C. precedents are wrong and fly in the face of this latest ruling.

The Crown disagrees.

Federal lawyer Peter Eccles said the MMAR requirements are reasonable given the legitimate societal interest in controlling the distribution of a “potentially harmful drug.”

“They ensure only those with a bona fide medical need for marijuana, verified by appropriate medical declaration, obtain legal access,” Eccles said. “Mr. Poelzer is not such an individual.”

Perhaps.

Two B.C. justices will render their opinions soon on whether there actually is a criminal marijuana law in force at the moment or whether de facto legalization has occurred because the medical access scheme is unconstitutional.

Market issues ‘need to be addressed’

The question is how will Ottawa respond to the federal court decision.

Since the impugned marijuana access scheme is a product of regulation rather than statute, the government can quickly promulgate new rules.

“They could make cosmetic regulatory changes,” Nash acknowledged, “which would force another court challenge. But I think the judges are pretty fed up with them doing that.”

And for good reason — sick people should not have to deal with the black market.

Nash said it’s time to get medical marijuana out of the courts, properly regulated and controlled.

“It comes down to consumer choice,” Nash said. “We have people across Canada who want our organic product. Patients want different price ranges, they want different strains, they want different hybrids. There are market issues here that need to be addressed. When you go to a pharmacy do you want to be told you can only have Bayer?

“This is about patients’ rights and a legitimate need.”

imulgrew@vancouversun.co

Note:

Ian Mulgrew is the Vancouver Sun’s legal affairs columnist and the author of several non-fiction books, including Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, 2005).

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