Breaking the Silence

Cannabis prohibition, organized crime and gang violence in British Columbia
Report prepared by the Stop the Violence BC Coalition
October 2011

breaking-the-silenceThis brief report outlines the links between cannabis prohibition in British Columbia (Canada) and the growth of organized crime and related violence in the province, and is the first report of a coalition of concerned citizens and experts known as Stop the Violence BC. The report also defines the public health concept “regulation” and seeks to set the stage for a much needed public conversation and action on the part of BC politicians.

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British Columbia has long been a key centre of illegal cannabis cultivation in Canada. While historically this activity was believed to be dominated by “hippies” growing cannabis in remote outdoor locations, the last two decades have seen the trade progressively characterized by high tech indoor grow operations that are increasingly under the control of organized crime groups. The scale and impact of this market should not be underestimated. A recent Fraser Institute report, which concluded that the cannabis trade should be legalized to address the harms of cannabis prohibition, estimated that the value of BC’s illegal cannabis market was worth up to $7 billion.

In response, significant law enforcement resources have been used in an attempt to suppress cannabis’s contribution to organized crime in BC. However, as was observed with the emergence of a violent illegal market under alcohol prohibition in the United States in 1920s, the vast illegal market that has emerged under cannabis prohibition has for many years proven resistant to law enforcement’s efforts, while unintended consequences have similarly emerged.

Specifically, in the wake of fears following the emergence of widespread cannabis use in the 1970s, there has been a longstanding and very costly effort to reduce cannabis availability and use through drug law enforcement. Despite more than an estimated $2.5 trillion having been spent on the “war on drugs” in North America during the last 40 years, cannabis is as readily available today as at any time in our history. Rates of use are up over the last decade, cannabis potency has increased and price has decreased. In fact, by virtually every metric, cannabis prohibition has clearly failed to achieve its stated objectives. This policy failure alone is reason enough to urgently explore alternatives, but cannabis prohibition has been more than simply ineffective. Despite these serious concerns, the ineffectiveness and unintended consequences of anti-cannabis laws are rarely publicly discussed by policy makers.

In fact, while business, social and political leaders may speak privately about the concerning role that cannabis prohibition has played in fuelling organized crime and related violence in British Columbia, the province’s leaders have largely been silent on this issue in public. Worse, other leaders have been outspoken in supporting an endless cycle of new drug law enforcement interventions, without any mention of the fact that the cannabis prohibition laws themselves set the stage for the enrichment of organized crime and related violence. This status quo must end.


From an evidence-based perspective, cannabis prohibition has clearly failed to achieve its stated objectives and has resulted in a range of harms, not the least of which is the growth of organized crime in British Columbia and the all too common violence that has been linked to the cannabis trade.

Many misconceptions exist regarding the actual impacts of cannabis prohibition, and special interests contribute to public confusion by commonly making false or misleading statements about the alternatives to the status quo. This report therefore concludes with a questions and answers section addressing many of the common questions about cannabis prohibition and its alternatives.