The Vancouver Sun this week has just run four days of amazing editorials dealing with marijuana — even more important given the furor over the recent slaying of 4 officers that was improperly and sensationally linked to marijuana. This is a well-thought-out series of editorials that explores the history of marijuana, discovers the lack of positive influence of prohibition, examines the downside of decriminalization, and ends up suggesting that Canada could lead the world in legalization efforts.
I’ve included some excerpts from each one (the last one ran today).
Part 1: Marijuana Prohibition Caught Hold for Neither Rhyme nor Reason
[1923:] … The inclusion of marijuana in the list of banned drugs came as a surprise to many parliamentarians, including member of Parliament Ernest Lapointe, who asked “What is cannabis sativa?”
Lapointe could easily have added: “Why has it been added to the list of prohibited substances?,” since, to this day, no one knows why marijuana was banned.æ Parliamentarians had no evidence that marijuana caused any physical, psychological or social harm.æ
Nevertheless, the legislation was passed without debate, which isn’t surprising since parliamentarians could hardly have engaged in debate concerning a substance about which they knew nothing.æ
While marijuana continued to be a non-problem — by the mid-20th century, little more than two dozen people had been charged with possession — Parliament, perhaps influenced by the drug hysteria in the United States which warned people that marijuana turns people into ax-murderers, instituted ever greater measures against the “demon” drug.æ…
… It’s common wisdom that behaviour is influenced by the risk of getting caught, rather than the severity of the law itself.æ Yet studies have demonstrated that the amount of money a country devotes to law enforcement, or the number of arrests it makes, has no bearing on the number of people in the country who use marijuana.æ
While we would like the law to solve all of our social problems, or perceived problems, it’s clear that it’s often unable to do so.æ Marijuana use, as with so many other behaviours, is influenced much more strongly by cultural factors and social values than by the law.æ
This suggests that our attempt to control marijuana use through the blunt instrument of the law is doomed to fail — indeed, it has already failed.æ And while failing, it has created a monster.æ
The monster has many heads and goes by many names: the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the triads, la Casa Nostra.æ Be it bikers, Asian gangs or the traditional mafia, all have experienced a tremendous boon from the criminalization of marijuana and other drugs. …æ
Now the downright ugly aspect of Bill C-38 [decriminalization]: The bill will do nothing to weaken the enormous power crime syndicates exert over the drug trade – in fact, it will likely strengthen the hand of organized crime.æ
The bill leaves the trafficking provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as they are, thereby allowing organized crime to maintain its stranglehold on the business.æ
In addition, the bill strengthens penalties for the cultivation of marijuana.æ …
But just as outlawing drugs helped to create and sustain crime syndicates, the harshness of the law does have an effect on the degree to which organized crime controls the drug trade.æ The predictable result of the harsher penalties in the new legislation is that “mom and pop” grow-ops will be deterred, leaving crime syndicates to fill the vacuum, since no penalty is likely to deter them.æ
As such, the new legislation plays right into the hands of organized crime by giving it an even greater stranglehold on the marijuana industry. …
… Countries have failed to consider legalization for a number of reasons: The U.S.æ has exerted enormous pressure on the world to maintain the war on drugs, and it often ties foreign aid to a country’s commitment to prosecuting that war.æ Even countries that rely only on U.S.æ trade, not aid — such as Canada — face ferocious opposition from the U.S.æ anytime legalization, or even decriminalization, is discussed.æ If we needed any more evidence on this score, we got it in spades on Wednesday.æ U.S.æ drug czar John Walters linked the increasing number of American teenagers seeking addiction treatment with Canadian pot exports.æ …
The U.S.æ might well remain intransigent, but as the international community harnesses and distributes more and more evidence about the harm caused by the war on marijuana, some nations might feel empowered to consider marijuana legalization and regulation on a trial basis.æ Should such trials prove successful, other countries would likely follow.æ
All of this must begin, though, with a commitment from Ottawa to develop a national drug strategy, and to communicate the results of its work to the world.æ The world is not losing the war on marijuana: It’s a war we’ve already lost.æ Canada can help to unify the globe in its efforts to minimize the harms caused not only by drugs, but by drug laws.
Canadians: share these editorials with your friends, your family. Use them as a current events discussion in class. They’re a really wonderful series for getting people talking.