For the book, titled “Killer Weed: Marijuana Grow Ops, Media, and Justice,” Boyd examined 2,500 articles from four major daily newspapers in British Columbia from 1995 to 2009.
She found news coverage about cannabis enforcement in B.C. frequently contained inaccurate information or exaggerated claims about the size and scope of the underground marijuana industry, the sorts of people associated with grow-ops, and the industry’s connection to gangs.
Assertions by police – particularly the RCMP, which is responsible for policing in much of B.C. — were left unchallenged, she says, and politicians, in turn, relied on such misinformation to push for stricter drug laws.
For example, the news articles she examined repeatedly asserted marijuana grow-ops are inextricable linked to gangs and other criminal organizations. Police spokespeople were frequently quoted explaining that modern-day grow-ops are not “mom and pop” operations.
But Boyd says the federal government’s own research does not support that claim.
She cited a Justice Department study that was completed in 2011, obtained by a reporter through an access to information request, that examined a random sample of 500 marijuana grow operations. Of those, just five per cent had apparent links to gangs or organized crime.
“This study wasn’t released by our federal government, and you could see why,” says Boyd.
“It doesn’t fit with their Safe Streets and Communities Act, which frames marijuana grow-ops as always being associated with organized crime and gangs. I would say it’s probably the reverse.”