Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Mar. 21, 2005)

Nine Strikes  - You're Out…Sort Of

  By John Martin

My colleagues have just released a much publicized report dealing with the extent of the marijuana grow industry in British Columbia.  The results confirm what many have been saying all along; business is booming and the justice system is relatively uninterested.

The amount of marijuana grown in this province has quadrupled in the last six years and the operations have become more sophisticated and lucrative.  The number of plants seized from indoor grow-ops has increased to an average of 236 and all indications are that further growth is inevitable.

But despite an increase in the number of operations and complaints from neighbors and landlords, the response from criminal justice agencies is heading in the other direction.

In about half the confirmed cases of grow operations, the police typically confiscate the equipment and product with no formal processing of criminal charges.  It appears even law enforcement has thrown in the towel.

In those cases where police do recommend charges, prosecutors have become less likely to accept these and opt not to move forward with them.  In almost half the instances where charges are laid, the crown orders a stay of proceedings.

And even though offenders are growing larger crops, stealing more electricity and becoming much more violent in guarding their operations, judges are less likely to order a period of incarceration for those found guilty. 

There is an increasing reliance on non-custodial dispositions such as conditional sentences.  The number of people getting jail time for growing has been cut in half since 1997.

For those who are sentenced to custody, there is no rhyme or reason between the number of prior convictions and length of sentence.  Overall, only 16% of growers receive jail time and the average sentence is less than five months.

More disturbing, for those convicted of cultivating 100 plants or more, an offender would need at least nine prior convictions to have a 50-50 chance of getting any jail time at all.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put this all together and recognize that the odds are in the grower’s favor throughout the criminal justice process. The system has absolutely no capacity to deter and no appetite to punish.  It is, for all intents and purposes, impotent.

Yet, we continue to extend vast sums of resources in this futile masquerade.  We continue to pretend it’s just a bunch of mom and pop, small grows for personal use when marijuana production is actually the mainstay for organized crime in this province.

Clearly the system and response to grow operations is a farce.  While decriminalization would be a disaster for the border and trade with the U.S., at least it would be honest.

Just as you would be reluctant to make a gourmet feast for family visiting from out of town who always stop at the buffet on their way over, police are reluctant to extend the time and resources pursuing a case that will never see the light of day.  Prosecutors are reluctant to take on a file that will be stayed or at best, result in a slap on the wrist.  And judges are reluctant; no, I take that back.  Judges are terrified, of handing down a meaningful sentence that will surely be successfully appealed. 

 The entire report can be downloaded at:

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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