Whoops-a-daisy: 'Significant' outdoor bust in Lethbridge history wasn't weed


Michael Platt

Yesterday at 8:55 PM

Which is which: Daisy and cannabis. Pick below the story to find out. (Left photo: www.123rf.com/Right: File)
Can you tell the difference? Find out below the story. — It’s blooming embarrassing, is what it is. The best part: police still won’t admit the plants they seized in what was supposedly the biggest outdoor marijuana bust in Lethbridge history are plain old flowers — daisies, to be precise. All police will concede at this point is the 1,624 plants torn from a suburban Lethbridge garden on July 30 isn’t marijuana, as first claimed after a phalanx of police marched in and starting plucking. “This is a significant bust, given the size of this operation,” is how a senior officer put it at the time, while proudly displaying garbage bags full of the dastardly daises. That same officer, Staff Sergeant Wes Houston, now admits the plant haul was a mistake. “In any investigation, police count public safety as our top priority — our decision to seize the plants was made with the best information we had at the time,” said Houston, leader of CFSEU-Lethbridge. Police were certainly convinced they had a huge haul of pot — and this was not the opinion of some lone rookie, frisky at the prospect of a big drug raid. This was the judgment of veteran officers from the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team — supposedly the best drug squad this province has to offer. So many badges, and apparently, so little clue — at least when it comes to the difference between daisies and dope. It’d be pure comedy if not for the damage the dubious raid may have caused. There’s the garden. These plants, called Montauk daisies, have been growing in Ryan Thomas Rockman’s yard for the past decade, and the once lush yard, tended by the avid gardener, is now trashed. And speaking of trashed, there’s the 41-year-old grandfather’s reputation. Rockman freely admits smoking pot to alleviate back pain, and says he’s applied to the federal government for a medicinal marijuana licence. But there’s a vast gap between possessing marijuana for personal use and growing huge crops of the stuff for the sake of trafficking. Rockman is still facing four charges connected to 1.5 pounds of marijuana and 6.3 grams of resin allegedly found in his home, but that’s a small-time bust by any law enforcement definition. It was the 1,624 plants that got cops excited, and it’s the 1,624 plants that made Rockman sound like a big league dealer. “They muddied my name pretty good,” Rockman told reporters shortly after the big bust. “The whole situation makes me want to hang my head and cry.” It’s especially sad when Rockman kept telling police that the plants they’d torn from his yard were daises — this wasn’t some ruse that caught police off guard. At first glance, and certainly to an untrained eye, the daisies do look a little like weed. Tamara Cartwright-Poulits, director of the Southern Alberta Cannabis Club, knows Rockman, and at one point, she had the very same daises growing in her yard. “To be fair, they do look very similar. You have to look close to see the difference,” said Cartwright-Poulits. She lists a number of obvious clues — the number and shape of the leaves being the most obvious — but she says it’s one thing for an average person to be fooled, another for a seasoned drug cop. “This just shows they are totally uneducated about marijuana, and when you’re dealing with law enforcement officers, that’s unacceptable,” said Cartwright-Poulits. “To me, this looks like they were scrambling for the big bust, hoping for a big headline.” She’s harsh, as you’d expect from someone dedicated to making marijuana legal. But her criticism about police being easily duped by a common garden plant has the sting of truth — and if the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team isn’t asking tough questions, they should be. A major drug trafficker growing his crop outdoors in a backyard? That alone should have raised red flags — and when the target of the bust tells you the plants are daisies, it’s worth checking with a horticulturist before putting out a province-wide press release. It’s a funny story, and one that’s bound to make the rounds as an example of sloppy police work — but long-term damage to the reputation of Alberta’s crack drug squad is no laughing matter. Instead of catching criminals red-handed, this case has police red faced. Whoops-a-daisy, indeed. michael.platt@sunmedia.ca  

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