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Cannabis Exports from Canada to the United States

Introduction: Why is this an issue?

Canadian law on cannabis exports

US official claims that Canada is a major source of cannabis for the United States

Claims by Canadian officials that Canada is a major source of cannabis for the United States


Evidence challenging these claims:
  1. 2001 Report of the Auditor General of Canada
  2. National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment
  3. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Criminal Intelligence Directorate, Marihuana Cultivation in Canada: Evolution and Current Trends
  4. United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002
  5. Statement by Donnie R. Marshall, Administrator, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, March 29, 2001
  6. United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment (October 2004)




Introduction


United States government officials (and sometimes even Canadian officials) have made many claims that Canada is a major supplier of cannabis to the US.  However, the available evidence, including reports from the Auditor General of Canada, the RCMP, joint Canada-US task forces, and the United Nations, suggests that:


The motivation behind these exaggerated claims about Canadian exports is not entirely clear.  Nor is it clear how reducing the penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis (Bill C-38, introduced at the end of May 2003 (since reintroduced on November 1, 2004, in the 38th Parliament as Bill C-17) would make possession of up to 15 grams a ticketable offence only) would affect Canadian cannabis exports.  However, some argue that United States drug control officials simply want to portray Canada as a major supplier of cannabis in order to justify US pressure against Canadian law reform related to cannabis.
 
This web page sets out the claims made by US officials about Canadian cannabis exports, then offers evidence, based on various reports, to challenge those claims. It also describes the current Canadian law prohibiting cannabis exports.


        -- Eugene Oscapella, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy



The Law

Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19), the main federal law that creates criminal offences relating to drugs, prohibits the export of illegal drugs, including cannabis, from Canada.  It also prohibits "possession for the purpose of export."  In both cases, the maximum possible penalty (for cannabis) is life imprisonment.

The Act states:

6. (1) Except as authorized under the regulations, no person shall import into Canada or export from Canada a substance included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, V or VI. [Schedule II lists cannabis, its preparations, derivatives and similar synthetic preparations]

(2) Except as authorized under the regulations, no person shall possess a substance included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, V or VI for the purpose of exporting it from Canada.

(3) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2)

(a) where the subject-matter of the offence is a substance included in Schedule I or II [Schedule II lists cannabis etc.], is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life . . .



US official claims about cannabis exports to the United States


Sources close to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency [Adminstration] say it will soon issue a report claiming there are 15 to 20,000 marijuana growing operations in British Columbia alone and 95 per cent of the output is headed south.
-- Carl Hanlon, Global National Television News, 6:30 pm EDT, Monday, May 13, 2002

Canada is a major source country for high-potency  marijuana, hydroponically grown marijuana, so-called "BC bud" from British Columbia coming into the United States.

– US Drug “Czar” (Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy) John Walters, press briefing for foreign journalists, Washington, DC, August 13, 2002

"The problem today is that Canadian production of high-potency marijuana in British Columbia is a major source of marijuana [in the United States] . . . and it's spreading. Just like cocaine, shipped up from Mexico."
-- “Canada's pot policy under fire from U.S.,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), September 13, 2002, quoting US Drug “Czar” John Walters

Mr. Walters said last week the United States is already alarmed that 95% of the marijuana grown in British Columbia is sent south of the border. The growers are largely Vietnamese organized crime groups who have moved into Ontario and Quebec to supply the U.S. market with high-potency and high-quality marijuana, he said.
-- “Decriminalization will cause border delays, hurt economy, Alliance critic says: Tighter border security,” National Post, Monday, December 16, 2002

Liberalizing laws will boost drug use and bring more pot into the United States, said John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Canada is already a major source of marijuana for the United States, with an estimated $2.5 billion worth smuggled in each year, Walters said Thursday.
-- “U.S. Frets Canada May Ease Marijuana Law,” New York Times, December 12, 2002

[US Drug Czar ] Mr. [John] Walters said this week that 90 per cent of a highly potent strain of Canadian marijuana being grown in Canada is shipped to the U.S.   "Canada is now becoming the principal vehicle to move what amounts to the crack of marijuana into the United States. This is not about us having a small additional problem, this is about driving directly at the biggest threat that we have."
-- "RCMP focuses on traffickers: commissioner: Mounties not interested in making criminals out of marijuana users", The Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 2003




Evidence challenging US claims about Canadian cannabis exports

1. 2001 Report of the Auditor General of Canada

11.19 . . . Recently, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board raised some concern about Canada's efforts to eradicate cannabis. British Columbia's Organized Crime Agency estimates that more than 15,000 growing operations in British Columbia produce $6 billion worth of marijuana annually. The law enforcement community believes that a significant portion of this is smuggled to the United States; however, Canada supplies only a small portion of the U.S. market.

“Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government's Role”, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2001 Report, Chapter 11 (for full report, click here.)


2. National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment, December 2001
(for full report, click here.)

Most of the marijuana available in the United States is produced domestically or is imported from Mexico and Colombia. However, Canada increasingly is becoming a source country for high-grade marijuana to the United States.

. . .

Marijuana is also the most popular illicit drug in Canada. Most of the marijuana consumed in Canada is produced in that country; however, marijuana smuggled into Canada from countries such as Mexico and Jamaica, some of which transits the United States, also is available.

 Although criminal groups based in Canada supply far less marijuana to the United States than their Mexican or Colombian counterparts, most of the marijuana supplied from Canada is high-grade marijuana, for which there is a growing demand in the United States. Seizure data and anecdotal evidence suggest that multi-metric ton quantities of Canada-produced marijuana reach U.S. markets yearly. Nevertheless, marijuana transported from Canada clearly amounts to only a small percentage of all marijuana smuggled into the United States. [emphasis added]

. . .

A number of international publications have reported that approximately 50–60 percent of the marijuana produced in Canada is smuggled into the United States annually. However, in-depth analysis and consultations between officials of both countries have concluded that these estimates cannot be substantiated through current reporting.

National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment, Product No. 2002-R0423-001, December 2001, pp. 2-3.  


3. Excerpts from

Marihuana Cultivation in Canada: Evolution and Current Trends - November 2002

Criminal Intelligence Directorate
Royal Canadian Mounted Police - November 2002


(Originally published November 2002 and posted on the RCMP Internet site April 24, 2003)
(for full report, click here)

Exportation of Canadian Marihuana to the United States

. . .

Smuggling of Canadian marihuana to the United States is rising. According to the U.S. Customs Service, 148 kilos of marihuana were seized along the British Columbia-Washington State border in 1994. Four years later, in 1998, the total stood at 1,182 kilos. In 1999, Customs officers seized 1,319 kilos. It is impossible to determine exactly what percentage of the marihuana grown in Canada is intended for the U.S. markets.

It should be underscored that despite the large quantities of Canadian marihuana smuggled into the United States, Canada is far from being the principal source. To put things in perspective, it is estimated that approximately three tons of Canadian marihuana are seized each year in the United States, while the exports from Mexico alone total thousands of tons annually. During the first half of 1999 alone, U.S. Customs intercepted 547 tonnes of marihuana being smuggled into the country from Mexico. The U.S. are basically their own main source of marihuana. [emphasis added]


(see the complete section of the RCMP report on exports immediately below)
Exportation of Canadian Marihuana to the United States

Today, Canadian production of marihuana is such that offer now outstrips demand, which means that part of the crop is intended for export to foreign markets, mainly to the United States. The smuggling of Canadian marihuana to the U.S. is an activity that is conducted every day, practically all along the border. The drug is moved by land, sea and air, using every conceivable method.

Traffickers employ various modes of transportation, depending in most cases on the amount to be smuggled. For quantities of about 15 to 25 kilos, one simple but popular technique consists of tossing a backpack or large duffle bag full of marihuana across the international divide, where it is later retrieved by an accomplice. In some areas, that border is little more than an invisible line between two markers. For larger loads, private vehicles as often used. Rentals are now preferred by many, because proceeds of crime legislation provides for the seizure of any asset used in the commission of a crime. Land shipments of several hundred kilos and more are transported by trucks, tractor-trailers, or any other large-capacity vehicles. The drug is usually concealed among the legitimate cargo. Recreation vehicles, or RVs, are also a popular smuggling method. Private aircraft often make airdrops of marihuana to associates on the ground.

What is probably the most active area for cross-border marihuana smuggling is the boundary between British Columbia and the state of Washington. Drug seizures in that region have increased markedly in recent years. In 2001, 3,446 kilos of marijuana were seized at the Blaine border crossing, nearly twice as much as the year before. Interstate 5, which runs all the way from San Ysidro at the Mexican border to the Peace Arch Provincial Park at the Canadian border, is a major pipeline for smugglers.

The Great Lakes area and the region between Quebec and the New England states also see intense smuggling activities.

Larger shipments are also carried south. In August 2000, for example, a truck from the Canadian Armed Forces was used to transport 109 kilos from British Columbia to the United States at the Blaine port-of-entry. The drug was contained in five large duffle bags. On March 4, 2002, the same border crossing was the site of another large seizure of Canadian marihuana. A tractor-trailer transporting large rolls of paper was found to contain twenty hockey bags filled with marihuana. A total of 420 kilos was seized.

On July 3, 2002, following a one-year investigation, a joint forces operation concluded with the arrest of 35 people involved in the smuggling of marihuana to the United States. The trafficking network was exporting between 135 and 230 kilos of marihuana every week to border states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. It recruited independent truck drivers to carry the drugs as part of their normal runs to New England. The investigation was conducted by the RCMP, the SQ, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, the DEA, the U.S. Border Patrol and several municipal police agencies in Quebec.

On June 13, 2000, the Saint-Jérôme (Québec) and Cornwall (Ontario) RCMP detachments concluded a one-year investigation into a trafficking network that had been smuggling an estimated 900 kilos of marihuana since 1998 from Quebec to the New York area by going through the Kanesatake and Akwasasne reserves near Montreal.

Smuggling of Canadian marihuana to the United States is rising. According to the U.S. Customs Service, 148 kilos of marihuana were seized along the British Columbia-Washington State border in 1994. Four years later, in 1998, the total stood at 1,182 kilos. In 1999, Customs officers seized 1,319 kilos. It is impossible to determine exactly what percentage of the marihuana grown in Canada is intended for the U.S. markets.

It should be underscored that despite the large quantities of Canadian marihuana smuggled into the United States, Canada is far from being the principal source. To put things in perspective, it is estimated that approximately three tons of Canadian marihuana are seized each year in the United States, while the exports from Mexico alone total thousands of tons annually. During the first half of 1999 alone, U.S. Customs intercepted 547 tonnes of marihuana being smuggled into the country from Mexico. The U.S. are basically their own main source of marihuana. [emphasis added] 

Over the years, there have been numerous reports of BC Buds being traded on a pound-for-pound basis for cocaine, but no case has ever been documented. In fact, given the respective selling prices of cocaine and marihuana, it is highly unlikely that such a trade could ever be made. An exchange of about three pounds of high quality marihuana for one pound of cocaine would make more financial sense.


4. United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCCP)
Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002


The UNDCCP reported the following:


Source:  United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002, pp. 127, 132, 138, 140 (for full report, see http://www.unodc.org/pdf/report_2002-06-26_1/report_2002-06-26_1.pdf)

5. Statement by Donnie R. Marshall, Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration, before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, March 29, 2001  (for full statement, click here.)


The U.S./Mexico Border continues to be the preferred corridor to smuggle cocaine, black tar heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States. . . .
Drug trafficking organizations operating from Mexico have smuggled marijuana into the United States for over 20 years and are responsible for supplying most of the foreign marijuana available in the United States. Virtually all the marijuana smuggled into the United States, whether grown in Mexico or shipped through Mexico from lesser sources such as Central America, is smuggled across the U.S./Mexico Border.



6.  United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment (October 2004) For full report, click here.  For .pdf version, click here.
"Most marijuana trafficking activity is southbound, although it is smuggled in both directions across the border. While Canadian-produced marijuana accounts for only approximately 2% of overall U.S. marijuana seizures at its borders, the two governments are very concerned about an upward trend in seizures, which have increased 259% since 2001." (at page 3)

* The Government of Canada and the Government of the United States jointly prepared this document with contributions from several departments and agencies on both sides of the border.  


NOTE:  Various US agencies have for several years been claiming that Canada is a major exporter of cannabis.  Yet this report says that, despite a 259% increase in seizures of cannabis entering the US from Canada since 2001, Canadian produced marijuana still accounts for only about 2% of overall US border seizures.   That means that, if  these figures are accurate, less than 1% of the cannabis seized in 2001 at US borders came from Canada.  On that basis, how can these US agencies continue to claim that Canada is a major exporter of cannabis to the US?  
       
                                                                                                        -- Eugene Oscapella, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, October 2004



Claims by Canadian Officials that Canada is a Major Source of Cannabis for the United States


 
On January 25 and 26, 2005, several Canadian newspapers published a Canadian Press story about cannabis exports.  The story quoted George Webb, identified as the head of counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation for Canadian Border Services Agency, as saying that Canada is the biggest drug supplier of the United States, "whether it be B.C. bud, methamphetamines or steroids."  (Various papers modified the story somewhat, but the central message remained.  For example, the Globe and Mail reported on January 26, 2005 : "Canada is now the largest single supplier of pot, speed and steroids to the United States, says George Webb, a top customs official.")  

Other papers that published this misleading claim (that is, misleading at least as it relates to cannabis; I cannot comment on the accuracy of the claims about speed and steroids, but one should approach those claims with the same caution as the claim about cannabis) included the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun,  Edmonton SunVancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg Free Press, Windsor Star, and Ottawa Sun. (See the Media Awareness Project website for stories in other papers, as well as letters to the editor in response.)
 Here is one of the letters to the editor written in response to this misinformation.

Note also that none of the newspapers that reported the Canadian Press story bothered to question these claims about Canada's exports.
 This shows how easily misleading information becomes "fact" by being widely and uncritically reported.  For an analysis of the uncritical reporting by media of "facts" about drugs, see Coomber R, Morris C, Dunn L, "How the media do drugs: quality control and the reporting of drug issues in the UK print media," International Journal of Drug Policy, 2000 May 1;11(3):217-225.

        -- Eugene Oscapella, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy -- February 2005


[Click here to see the reports and statistics challenging the claim that Canada is a major source of cannabis for the United States]




Updated:Tuesday, 01-Feb-2005 13:30:05 PST| Accessed:32440times