Published: Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Grow houses are bad, bad places.

The problem with grow houses isn't that they produce marijuana, but how they produce marijuana. First of all, they use amateur electricians to steal power. Not only does this drive up hydro rates for those of us not growing weed, using an amateur electrician to hook up your hydro is about as wise as letting an amateur brain surgeon remove a tumour from your frontal lobe. The combination of suspect wiring and the intense humidity created by having hundreds, and sometimes thousands of plants crammed together in a small space makes grow houses first-class fire traps.

Not only are they highly flammable, but grow houses are also frequently filled with booby traps to keep thieves away from the crop. When firefighters come to a call at a grow house, not only are they in danger from the inferno, but also from the various implements of death surrounding the house.

Given the inherent danger of having grow houses in residential neighbourhoods, it's hard to object to Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter's proposal to give hydro companies - the people who are most able to locate probable grow houses - the authority to cut the power to suspected grow houses and turn their location over to police. It makes sense to have these dangerous operations shut down before they catch fire, as opposed to after.

What makes more sense, however, is for the government to legalize and regulate the growing and distribution of marijuana, eliminating the criminal element and the accompanying danger entirely.

I'm not going to be one of those potheads who desperately tries to convince the masses that marijuana is harmless; it's not. Major league stoners have long, drawn out conversations that go nowhere, they frequently forget things, like their keys or their names, and sometimes their brains get so irreparably damaged that they start to think that Phish is a really good band.

What is easy to argue is the fact that the time, effort and resources put into stopping the growth and sale of marijuana are way out of proportion to the negative effects the drug has on society. To a cynic, the campaign against ganja seems to have more to do with governments' desire to curry favour with our neighbour to the south by taking part in their ill-advised war on drugs that it does with a legitimate concern over the brain cells of a generation.

Decriminalization as proposed by the Chretien administration would not go far enough. While it would prevent otherwise law-abiding citizens from getting criminal records for holding small amounts of dope, it would still leave marijuana production in the hands of outlaws, meaning that dangerous grow houses would still exist.

If brain cells and crippling addiction were really at issue, the government would have never lifted the prohibition on alcohol, a drug that kills hundred of people every year and provokes thousands to fight much bigger people, make early-morning calls to their exes and puke on their new Etnies. Marijuana isn't more dangerous than alcohol because it's a more dangerous substance. It's more dangerous because the people who produce it are dangerous.

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