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November 13, 2005 - Toronto Star (CN ON)

Canada: One Big Grow-Op

Bud Inc.: Inside Canada's Marijuana Industry
by Ian Mulgrew Random House Canada 287 pages, $35

Review by Christine Sismondo (Note: Christine Sismondo lectures at York University's division of humanities. Her book Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History (McArthur & Co.) has just been released.)

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

There are occasions you realize everybody in your community agrees on almost everything.

Sometimes this can be terrifying, but most times there's a certain comfort to be taken when most everyone agrees that certain things - say gay marriage, access to abortion and the legalization of marijuana - are all desirables.

So it was a surprise when talk of drugs became serious at all last year, after one of our favourite local distributors got arrested for trafficking. We'll call him Corona Dave (even though he occasionally drank Guinness or even Jagermeister). Let's just say he had an additional problem: He happened to be in the country ever so slightly illegally.

For Dave, his arrest (we won't go into specifics here but suffice to say it belonged in the province of slapstick and involved Corona, Guinness and Jagermeister) would inevitably lead to deportation. Weed became the fodder for more serious discussion than usual.

Seeing as just about everybody will admit to having inhaled at some point in their lives, why should our friend be penalized with property seizure, jail, then house arrest, and finally being forced to leave his country? Especially when, in so many people's eyes, Corona Dave was practically providing a social service.

I had spoken with him about the risks of his profession before. He wasn't worried. Police were after guys with harder stuff. Further, some of his trade was supposedly in medical marijuana and he thought that would be a mitigating factor in any arrest. Besides, we were on the verge of legalization (or at least decriminalization), weren't we?

Corona Dave wasn't the only one lulled into a false sense of security, it seems. Vancouver newspaperman Ian Mulgrew, in his new book, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada's Marijuana Industry, chronicles the legal battles of several dope crusaders who flaunted their disregard for prohibition and are paying for it. Most of them are denizens of another enclave not unlike the Annex, British Columbia.

The most famous case at present is Marc Emery, a.k.a. the Prince of Pot. Emery owns a seed company that, until recently, openly dealt in what is estimated to be millions of dollars annually worth of marijuana seeds both out of his Vancouver store and through a mail-order enterprise facilitated by the Internet. American Drug Enforcement Agency officials took exception to Emery's blatant practice of sending seeds south of the border by way of the post and, requesting that the RCMP act on their behalf, had him arrested this summer, along with partners Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams.

Emery et al are waiting to see if extradition treaties are upheld. If they're turned over to the American authorities, they could face time in prison. For horticulture.

But long before Emery's arrest, Mulgrew was interviewing him for his extraordinarily well-researched book. Emery is candid about his business and goals - "Overgrow the Government" is his motto - and he claims to give away most of his money to organizations with a view to political reform, even though he imagines prohibition's end would put him out of business.

Emery is not the only major player to give Mulgrew the straight dope (forgive me, please). One of the most amazing things about this book is the author's access to this semi-underground industry. A self-described long-time "consumer" himself, Mulgrew has on-the-record interviews with defence lawyers who specialize in this kind of business; small and big-time growers; specialist fertilizer manufacturers; legalization activists and, of course, distributors, including Don Briere - who, in 2004, opened the Da Kine Cafe in "Vansterdam." Da Kine sold "medical marijuana" to anybody who signed a form complaining about just about any ailment.

It lasted four months. The thin facade that Da Kine was a "compassion club" - a centre that distributes medical marijuana to the terminally or chronically ill - was destroyed by some crack detective work. As Mulgrew notes, "one undercover police officer bought marijuana for her testicular cancer, another for his premenstrual cramps."

Just about the only major players who aren't on record in Bud Inc. are the Hell's Angels. Widely rumoured to control much of the trade in Quebec and Ontario, the gangs who control the seedier side of drug trafficking are obviously the primary reason anybody concerns themselves with the enforcing of marijuana laws at all. However, as is painfully obvious to any rational, even casual observer, the elimination of prohibition would eliminate (by definition, even) the criminal element.

This point is a major part of Mulgrew's argument for ending marijuana prohibition. He suggests it's unfortunate that people who grow plants think they require pit bulls or guns (or both) to protect their garden. Prohibition breeds criminal behaviour, in pretty much exactly the same way it did in the days of Al Capone.

Another element of Mulgrew's legalization stance is the ubiquitous nature of the drug. I think we all had an idea that the B.C. economy would collapse into itself like a black hole if the world collectively and simultaneously gave up using marijuana, but the picture painted in Bud Inc. is staggering. Mulgrew cites a banker's estimate that half of Canadians are in some way exchanging money over marijuana (mostly as consumers, obviously).

But still, half. Marijuana is B.C.'s major export, accounting for roughly 5 per cent of the province's economy. Forbes magazine reports that marijuana is now Canada's most valuable agricultural product. And Paul Martin is still debating lumber tariffs with W?

Volume won't impress marijuana's opponents, I'm sure (not that I've ever met any). Criminalizing (and pathologizing) normal social behaviour is a life's work for many moral reformers (I have met some of those). Other aspects of Mulgrew's argument, such as the drug's usefulness in making chemotherapy more bearable, will perhaps be more compelling to the moralists.

Thankfully, the book isn't a polemic. That would be boring. Bud Inc. reads much like some of the better magazine writing out there. It is a vivid and thorough depiction of a major Canadian industry and should lead many readers to the conclusion that the end of prohibition will be good for everybody - except perhaps Marc Emery.

Mulgrew feels that a happy ending is close at hand. He argues that despite the drug's bad rep for being the gateway drug for every unmotivated slacker on his way to chip-related weight gain or smack (whichever you believe), the fact that the drug is empirically pretty harmless, combined with its nearly universal usage and medically proven benefits in specific circumstances, will eventually lead to its decriminalization.

Which is an argument we in the Annex often forget even needs to be made anymore - except on those rare occasions when we watch our friends' lives torn apart for selling a plant.

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