Thursday, September 09, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


Vancouver's finest as they are popularly known have once again flexed their brawn without using their brains. The September 9, 2004, raid of the Da Kine marijuana shop on Commercial Drive in Vancouver re-inforces to the public that Vancouver has a recurring, serious problem when it comes to policing of our social issues. Safety issues have left a lot to be desired in the context of policing in Vancouver. The leadership of the Vancouver Police Department must at some point get its act together. Instead of deploying, as they did today, a mini army to address a relatively harmless societal issue, gives Vancouver a really bad reputation.

To put the issue of the Da Kine raid into proper perspective, we must challenge law regulators and enforcers on whether the selling of socially accepted drugs, such as marijuana, constitutes illegal behaviour. We must also explore the whole idea of criminalizing those who use marijuana medically and if this action constitutes a breach of their charter rights.

Another area which needs examination is the issue of balancing health benefits vs. harm in the marijuana consumption dilemma. Whether potential benefits constitute greater good to society has largely been answered by the public. Canadians generally agree that pot smoking doesn't harm society. Therefore, a question lurks--in whose interest is it to target pot users, criminalizing them for engaging in what many consider a harmless social issue.

No question--safety concerns of a neighborhood must be taken into account about what is generally accepted and tolerated behaviour. The courts have determined there should be a community test on social moral issues. Standards may vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. The whole matter of marijuana use and the appropriateness of regulated, licenced retailers selling products which are known to be used by many Canadians, without harm, and which appear to have medical benefit is best left to a community standard test. Community acceptance or rejection will determine the best outcomes.

The police are wrong when they say they need to enforce the laws as they currently stand. It seems the police, whenever a social issue such as prostitution or drug use comes on their radar screen, they act inappropriately by engaging themselves politically.

The police must also recognize that they are not experts on social or health issues and should seek a consultive, collaborative approach to deal with the perceived illegality. In fact, police should rethink their strategy of engaging in hostile military-like manoeuvres, which have the potential to create unnecessary harm to a community. Storming a neighborhood in balaclavas and carrying rifles is alarming. The merit of police commando units being deployed to resolve the rather benign selling of pot is really questionable.

Time and time again, police leadership when these social political issues arise resort to a one-size-fits-all enforcement mentality. As a result, this only further drives what is socially accepted underground practices further underground. This often benefits the organized criminal elements in our society who thrive on this community discord.

So what will happen in the aftermath of the big police raid on Da Kine? Well, nothing much in the short term. Individuals will be charged and most likely they will challenge the constitutionality of our marijuana laws. Chances are they will be successful and our Justice Ministry will need to re-vamp the marijuana law.

Our outdated marijuana law needs reform. Public acceptance of alcohol consumption and selling of the various alcohol products in regulated liquor retailing outlets generally hasn't had negative effects on communities. If society accepts one drug already, it seems only natural also to tolerate and accept marijuana. After all, marijuana has been part of our cultural landscape forever. Attemps to abolish it would be fruitless. I think most forward thinking Canadians would agree.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361