Amidst heightening calls for the decriminalization of marijuana this week, only Jean Chrétien and the Canadian Police Association would have you believe decriminalization constitutes a slippery slope towards moral degradation.
The CPA's stance diverges from its sister organizations, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Both the CACP and the RCMP endorse decriminalizing marijuana. Nonetheless, the CPA stated that decriminalization will only weaken views that drug use is harmful and undercut supposedly widespread moral disapproval of drug use. Apparently, if people think it's okay to use marijuana, then they might also think the same about ecstasy, then acid and even cocaine. People deserve a little more credit.
CPA statements also beg the obvious question: If marijuana is a "gateway" drug into other forms of drug abuse, then how are alcohol and cigarettes any different?
Decriminalization of marijuana will in fact bring the perception of its usage closer to those held regarding alcohol and cigarettes: namely, kids won't start dropping tabs because they've smoked a joint. Rather, kids--like their parents--will use marijuana the way it's been used for decades: as a way to relax in a social atmosphere. In addition to widely held opinion, scientific studies now back the assertion that alcohol and tobacco use are more detrimental than marijuana.
Rebellious perceptions of marijuana are only furthered by the fact that marijuana is illegal. Decriminalization would counteract the stigma that pot use is a way to rebel against the system, the man, et cetera. By making possession legal, it would be a less daring act to carry pot and smoke it--arguably a cause of marijuana use.
However, Chrétien has apparently made up his mind on the debate. Despite last week's unanimous house approval to have a committee further investigate legalizing possession, Chrétien recently declared to reporters that decriminalization will not appear on the Liberal agenda. Despite allowing public debate, Chrétien appears content ducking the possibility of engaging in a losing debate over decriminalization.
A compromise is therefore in order.
Marijuana should be decriminalized, but with restrictions. Like alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana possession should be legal for 18-year-olds and above--i.e. those who are capable of choosing responsibly and are old enough to comprehend the consequences of their actions.
Such an action would have multiple effects: for those whose criminal record consists only of marijuana possession, decriminalization would reopen opportunities to employment and education.
Despite the CPA's assertions that decriminalization will increase health-care costs, they will be balanced by savings in the justice system, which processes 70,000 marijuana-related arrests annually. Legalizing possession would mean smoking pot would not be the big deal it is made out to be. Public perception is already skewed enough in that alcohol and cigarettes are not drugs but somehow, marijuana is.
In the end, marijuana is widely available, legally or not. The only real difference is you don't have to pay the GST. On second thought, maybe we should keep it illegal.