For some reason, my invite to attend the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) two-day grass summit has never arrived. So I just show up in the morning on the first day at an Ontario government building at Bay and Wellesley and, wouldn't you know it, only "respectable" community stakeholders like bankers, insurance reps, realtors, CSIS agents and reps from the U.S. consulate have been invited to help cops revive the war on drugs. The police alone can't battle the cancer of marijuana grow ops, so they've created a fear-mongering propaganda event called Green Tide. OACP seems to anticipate some sort of clash. The police presence in the halls and doorways is heavy.
Organizers claim that they're looking for alternative ideas on how to combat the "green tidal wave" of indoor marijuana grow ops, but the opening remarks by MPP Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services), OACP president Ean Algar and Chuck Mercier of the Durham regional police are full of crazy distortions.
One of the "facts" Algar offers is that 20 per cent of all grow ops busted by the fuzz are near schools, which prompts Mercier to conclude, "They (grow ops) need to be near schools so that their (crop-sitter) children can attend."
The crowd, made up mostly of middle-aged white boys, is further fired up by the screening of what I'll call Reefer Madness 2: Menace Of The Grow Op. Over an ominous soundtrack, images of bountiful crops, including the Molson Brewery operation, are flashed on the screen along with some bizarre ramblings about imminent gang warfare, drive-by shootings that will kill children, houses exploding and fires from grow ops burning down whole blocks of homes. Doomsday is coming, and the only way to stop it is to give the police more power to spy on citizens.
Marc Emery, the Crown Prince of Pot and a seed salesman who's somehow managed to get into this event as "media" (he runs Cannabis Culture magazine), looked away from the spectacle to say to me, "This is absolutely wild!" Indeed, this flick is beyond surreal. It borders on crazy. Thank god I hadn't succumbed to my original urge to get gunned on grass beforehand. The paranoia might have sent me reeling.
The vile untruths continue in the media scrum with Kwinter outside. When the questions get tough, Kwinter holds to the tried-and-true: blame the media.
Pointing to me, he says, "The biggest problem we have, and I say this without fear of contradiction, is you, the media."
Emery snaps back, "Prohibition only encourages all these problems. We need a regulated environment."
Me: "So you agree that prohibition is the problem?"
Kwinter: "We're not discussing the problem for Canadians. We're discussing that this marijuana is being used as a currency for organized crime to ship to the United States and bring back hard drugs and guns."
Media member: "Sir, we know gang violence is about territory, drug money. Can you not see the connection (between drug violence and prohibition)?"
Kwinter: "There are far greater hard drugs, like cocaine. The point that we're making, and I keep telling people - and you people have your own agenda - is that these grow houses are used for export marijuana. We are becoming one of the largest exporters of marijuana."
Me: "Why has the marijuana community been shut out of this conference?"
Kwinter: "Listen. We are bringing people who can help us and give us ideas on how we can tackle the problem. The United States has far stricter laws and is very concerned about the fact that Canada is a major supplier of marijuana to its market. "
Media: "But we're upset about their guns."
Kwinter: "That's another issue."
Me: "Sir, you just earlier connected it all."
Kwinter: "It's a whole contingent of problems."
Me: "Wouldn't taxing marijuana solve some of those problems?"
The minister skipped this question and began to ramble on about how he is - and this is a shocker - in favour of decriminalization. So is OACP.
It's clear the anti-drug warriors are too entrenched in their paranoid delusions to come up with anything more than stiffer penalties and greater invasion of civil liberties.
After two days of deliberations, the private sector agrees to gladly hunt out the evil grow ops - watch out for the guy reading your elmeter - but not until privacy laws are changed so everyone can share information.
The conference also issues an edict to real estate agents to beware the buyer who's more interested in the basement than the bedroom, pays the deposit in cash or shows up for the open house riding a hog. Realtors should immediately report any suspicious clients to law enforcement.
The anti-drug beasts have filled their full-colour, coil-bound report, Indoor Marihuana Cultivation And Its Impact On Ontario, with incredible speculations and stats.
"Although there have been no reported explosions or electrocutions directly tied to grow ops in Ontario," the report says, "such incidents have been reported in other provinces." They never do say how they came up with the stat that 10,000 children might have lived in grow ops between 2000 and 2003.
Down the street, there are no grand conspiracy theories at Green Truth, the shadow conference held at the Sutton Place Hotel.
Emery reports back to the counter-meet on the events that have unfolded at Green Tide, clearly fuelled by the insanity we've witnessed there.
The tirade Emery launches into fires up the laid-back room. "Who would normally and willingly consort with criminals to get marijuana? Who would buy their tomatoes or groceries from a biker or a mobster? No one ! We don't want to either!"
Niagara Centre NDP MPP Peter Kormos crashes both events but only takes the floor at Green Truth. The NDP house leader's message draws a standing ovation.
"I'd like to applaud the courage of the medical marijuana users who at great risk to themselves have spoken out. You people have renewed the debate and generated discussion. I commend you for your articulate arguments against prohibition. Jack Layton and Howard Hampton will be true to their promise that they will put an end to prohibition. Canadians from all walks of life and generations are enjoying trainloads of marijuana. The solution is to legalize it, regulate it, tax it and control it."
Just as Reefer Madness 2: Menace Of The Grow Op sent me to the land of the weird and crazy, the presentation at Green Truth by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition founding secretary John Gayder is equally unbelievable, but for all the right reasons. Gayder, an officer for Niagara region park police, stresses that his views are most definitely not his employer's but represent the opinion of a small but growing group of boys in blue who have seen way too many casualties on both sides of the war.
During the break, a small group of potheads trickle toward Gayder. Everyone commends him for speaking out when it would be easier to simply follow orders. When you consider that almost everyone in the room has been a victim of a police raid, his presentation is all the more overwhelming.
Officer Gayder tells us we should be spending more time pushing the fact that the "sky didn't fall in when cannabis was a non-criminal substance in the summer. We were not plagued by hordes of raving cannabis users high on the devil's weed."
Imagine a police officer saying, as Gayder does, "Why am I against the war on drugs? Well, it puts me in an adversarial position toward a large segment of society that I'm supposed to be protecting, and I know a lot of you in the room don't look at me that way. And that's not right. The vast majority of users of all types of drugs are non-violent people. I'm also against the war on drugs because it adds an unnecessary risk to the workplace.
"I'd like to see the end to the war on drugs so that the law enforcement profession can be safer and redeem its honour in the eyes of the public," he says.
We can only hope. But my hours in the maw of the anti-drug monster leave me with the feeling that the pro-pot community will never be given the opportunity to negotiate peace.