25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Mark Coakley

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Lawyer-turned-author Mark Coakley's newest book is Hidden Harvest: The Rise and Fall of North America's Biggest Cannabis Grow-Op (ECW Press). In Hidden Harvest, Mark explores the actions and impact of a criminal group which transformed an abandoned Molson beer factory north of Toronto into a veritable forest of cannabis.

Today Mark speaks with us about how his law background helped with writing this book, how the public is affected by police and government actions regarding marijuana cases and his upcoming project, digging into public school corruption.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Hidden Harvest.

Mark Coakley:

It is the story of North America's biggest cannabis (or "marijuana") indoor garden. This grow op was built inside an abandoned Molson beer factory in Barrie, Ontario. When it was raided by heavily-armed police officers in 2004, only a few low-level gardeners were arrested. Only in 2011, with the help of a highly-paid undercover informer wearing a wire, were the masterminds identified. My book tells a dramatic story, full of interesting and off-beat facts about the illegal drug industry, that shines a light on a cryptic but important part of the Canadian economy.


How did you first become involved in the story about this enormous grow-op bust, and why did you decide to write a book about it?


The raid on the Molson factory grow-op was all over TV and newspapers, a big topic of conversation. But there'd been no in-depth investigation, so I decided to write one.


How did you conduct your research for Hidden Harvest?


Court transcripts from Canada and the US, archival documents, technical research, media reports, internet searches, personal observation and interviews. I spent a lot of time arguing with and appealing the decisions of Canadian court staff and government officials, who often made it hard and slow to access public information. In this respect, the US system is far simpler, faster and cheaper.


What was the most surprising thing that you learned about the grow-op and the investigations surrounding it?


How much of our tax money is spent fighting this weed, and how many harmless Canadians are cruelly punished over it.


How has your experience as a lawyer contributed to your development as a writer?


10 years experience in Hamilton's criminal court improved my understanding of law and human nature. I've represented drug dealers in court, met with drug dealers in jail, made plea-bargains with prosecutors, cross-examined police officers, made oral submissions to drug court judges, watched clients hear the word "guilty" and be guided out of the courtroom in jingling chains, to jail. As a veteran of the War of Drugs, I avoid the usual clichees and tell readers what really goes on.


Can you recommend a stand-out True Crime book you've read recently?


The Bandidos Massacre by Peter Edwards.


What are you working on now?


An investigation into corruption at the Hamilton Public School Board. Based on falsified data, an elementary school in a low-income neighbourhood was sold and the proceeds used to renovate a school in an affluent neighbourhood, near property owned by the Ward's Trustee. The story ends on a hopeful note of community empowerment ... I also have a humour blog called Funny Sweet Chocolate, at http://www.markcoakley.wordpress.com

Mark Coakley practiced law for 10 years before becoming a full-time writer; he regularly contributes to Sharp and Urbanicity. His previous book is Tip and Trade: How Two Lawyers Made Millions from Insider Trading. He lives in Ontario.

For more information about Hidden Harvest please visit the ECW Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

1 comment

This man is a genius.

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