This Bud's For The U.S.


    CASH CROP: Inside a former brewery in Ontario, police found this pot farm

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    On the Canadian side, the drug is even more ubiquitous. At the popular New Amsterdam Cafe in downtown Vancouver, customers openly smoke marijuana. "People come with pot. We are a business, though, so we have a $2 minimum cafe charge [for snacks and drinks]," says cafe manager Scott Heardy. Inspector David Nelmes, who is in charge of drugs for the Vancouver police department, tells TIME, "I can't remember the last time a member of the Vancouver police department arrested someone for smoking a joint. Frankly, who's got time?" If passed within the year, as seems likely, new Canadian legislation would decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana, meaning that offenders would be slapped with only the equivalent of a traffic ticket. That approach is a far cry from the one that is taken in U.S. states like Oklahoma, where a person caught smoking dope could get up to a year in prison, although probation is more common.

    Canada's attitude toward small-scale toking up has led some U.S. officials to blame the northerners for the influx of BC Bud in America. "If the perception is that it will be easier to get marijuana in Canada ... then it creates problems at the border," Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada, said at a Toronto Board of Trade dinner in February. Indeed, the trade has led to an increase in drive-by shootings in Canada by rival dealers, and to "grow-rips," in which competing clans break into growers' houses to steal their crops, according to Canadian police. The body of the suspected ringleader of a trafficking group was found stabbed in the neck in a ditch in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in November 2002. "It's still a dangerous drug," says James Capra, the DEA's chief of domestic operations. "People are killing each other over it."

    Currently, a grower in Canada who has been convicted can expect less than two years of house arrest and a trafficker anywhere from three months to five years, served either at home or in prison, compared with the minimum punishment of five to 10 years that most convicted traffickers and growers receive in U.S. federal court. But as the violence has increased and cultivation of the crop has moved into residential areas, Canada has begun cracking down on its estimated 50,000 commercial pot growers. Over the past four years, police in Vancouver have seized $288 million worth of marijuana and $8.7 million worth of growing equipment. In Barrie, Ont., in January, police confiscated 30,000 marijuana plants, worth $23 million, inside a former Molson brewery.

    One hot, muggy morning in July, a TIME reporter accompanied the Vancouver police as an officer thumped on the door of a two-story brick-and-panel house on a leafy street of manicured lawns. Inside, officers discovered a basement filled wall to wall with more than 300 glossy female cannabis bushes. That bust is pretty routine, but the BC Bud keeps flowing. In the past four years, Vancouver police have made more than 1,500 others, or about one a day.

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