A recent case out of Revelstoke has exposed some of the ridiculous realities of the cannabis laws in British Columbia.
During an art and garden tour, a police officer in Revelstoke, Constable Ling, observed three cannabis plants growing in the back yard of one of the properties. As a result of these observations, the officer conducted surveillance of the property by hiding in some nearby bushes and seeing if he could see the plants from the street using a telephoto lens.
When he was successfully able to do that, he took steps to identify the homeowners using information from the brochure for the garden tour and ICBC’s database. He then obtained a search warrant, pursuant to powers under BC’s Cannabis Act.
And that’s where the trouble really begins.
In this case, the search warrant did not cover the property to allow the officer to go and seize the cannabis plants. Frankly, even that would be an overreach. The officer should have gone to the property to give the homeowner a quick education about the provisions of the Cannabis Act and when plants can and cannot be outside. Instead, he got a search warrant that covered not just the yard but also the person’s home and a shed in the yard.
In executing the warrant, police went into this poor woman’s home and seized her mail, cut a lock off her shed, and rifled through her belongings. Our legal system recognizes that a person has the highest expectation of privacy in their own home, but in this case the officer was permitted by the court and by the law to violate that privacy for something that amounted to little more than an administrative law violation.
Remember, it is not a crime to have three cannabis plants in your yard. It is an offence under British Columbia’s Cannabis Act. So the officer was enforcing a provincial statute by raiding this woman’s home. Completely over the top.
And as if that over broad and overarching power to enter into someone’s home on the basis of a minor technical violation of the law is not enough, the police issued the most ridiculous statement in defence of their actions. The RCMP claimed that having the plants visible there made the homeowner vulnerable to being robbed or having children steal her cannabis.
First of all, that is highly unlikely. The days of “grow rips” are long since over. And it is not nearly worth it to rip off a property of three plants which you can lawfully grow yourself. As for kids accessing the cannabis, it is theoretically possible but the RCMP provided no evidence or support for this concern. It is not grounded in reality, but in sheer speculation.
This case exposes exactly what I was concerned about when this law first came out: that police would have too much power to search people’s homes and invade their privacy and that the power would be quickly abused. If this is happening in quiet communities like Revelstoke, with not a single complaint from any member of the community other than the overzealous police officer, it is only a matter of time before these broad powers are used to harass and intimidate people who are vulnerable to police.
Instead of responding in justification of their actions, the RCMP and provincial government ought to have apologized and explained that the law was not intended to be used this way, and given a promise that next time they would try the sensible option instead of the nuclear one.