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Stoned is the way of the walk...

Conservative government's recent anti-pot efforts misplaced

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The other night, some close friends of mine were smoking a marijuana joint outside of a bar. A plainclothes bouncer outside tipped off another bouncer inside and my friends were informed that the bar has a strict anti-drug policy. They weren't allowed back inside to finish their drinks.

All of this is a bit surprising. These days, it's common in Western Canada to see folks smoking joints outside pubs and clubs with the cigarette smokers. And an establishment promoting and selling liquor is hardly anti-drug.

But ultimately my friends were breaching the current law of the land, and any establishment has the right to enforce their own policies. Still, my friends felt they weren't doing anything wrong. As a social libertarian, I can understand their frustration. I don't believe it should be the government's job to protect people from themselves, especially when they aren't hurting anyone else.

I'm not alone.

As Prime Minister Jean Chretien was leaving government in 2003, he tabled two legacy initiatives. The first was to legalize gay marriage and the second was to decriminalize marijuana. This helped to create a climate where Canada's marijuana laws became confusing and ambiguous to many Canadian citizens. The government was leaving the smokers alone, while still targeting growers and dealers. The Harper government wiped out the decrim initiative in 2006, shortly after being elected. Recently the Harper government announced increased spending and involvement with the war on drugs. This is a poor strategy and ultimately an attack on Canadian sovereignty.

Let's take a walk down memory lane!

In Nov. 2003, Canada's Attorney General and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon spoke on this issue for Bill C-38 and the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs:

"Clearly, our law is not in step with Canadian reality," said Cauchon. "This begs the question: does it make sense to threaten a young person with jail or the lasting burden of a criminal conviction if they make a bad choice? I think most people would agree the answer is no."

This was a strong statement, but also a bit of a contradiction. As he mentions later, a 2002 non-partisan senate committee recommended full legalization immediately. And they were very serious!

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue," said senator and commitee chair Pierre Nolin in an interview with CTV.

Stephen Harper, then the leader of the Canadian Alliance, didn't like the senate's report.

"As a parent, I would be more concerned about pot use than alcohol use by my children, even in moderation," said Harper at the time.

Think of the children! Clearly a full-scale study done by respected and senior Canadian politicians wasn't convincing enough for Mr. Harper.

It wasn't only the members of the government elite who felt legalization should happen. In a surprising 2004 report, an economist with the Fraser Institute (a Canadian right-wing think tank that prides itself on market solutions for public policy) voiced his support, arguing that legalizing marijuana could add $2 billion a year in tax revenues and remove a source of funding to organized crime.

"If we treat marijuana like any other commodity, we can tax it, regulate it, and use the resources the industry generates rather than continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been lost," said Easton in a Jun. 10 CBC article. Easton estimated the British Columbia marijuana industry is worth $7 billion.

He's right. The only ones who benefit from the war on drugs are criminal gangs that don't have to regulate their product to be safe and can maintain a monopoly on supply and prices. This creates a conflict over market share and funds other malevolent criminal endeavors. If customers are harmed, they have little recourse since they themselves were breaking the law. Right now the system allows the black market to thrive and the consumer and civil society to be abused.

While cannabis is consumed the world over, it's an issue especially relevant to Canadians. The 2007 United Nations World Drug Report stated that Canadians are four times more likely to have smoked pot in the past year than residents of nearly every other country. According to the study, 16.8 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 64 smoked marijuana or used another cannabis product in 2006. The world average is 3.8 per cent.

In the report, Canada ranks fifth in the world for marijuana use, behind Ghana at 21.5 per cent, Zambia, 17.7 per cent, and Papua New Guinea and Micronesia with 29 per cent each.

This created quite a stir in the national media. The Globe and Mail and National Post both wrote articles in support of decriminalization shortly after.

So with public, political, economic and intellectual opinion clearly in favour of full marijuana legalization, what's the holdup?

Ultimately, I believe it comes down to the United States and their war on drugs. They have long been strong opponents of marijuana. In fact, they convinced the UN it should be illegal via Harry J. Anslinger's hysteria and blatantly racist campaigns against Mexican immigrants. See The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and the UN's single Convention on Narcotic Drugs for good examples. Furthermore, the U.S. has been trying to get B.C. Marijuana Party leader Marc Emery extradited for selling seeds for the last couple of years. And in recent years the U.S. has also sent their drug czar John Walters on speaking tours across the country, amid protest, to state their distaste with Canada's marijuana attitude. He's been quoted as as saying marijuana growers are violent criminal terrorists. And there have been threats of locking down the border, which would hamper trade, and therefore our economy.

For a serious assessment of that threat, Parliament released Canada's Proposed Decriminalization of Marijuana: International Implications and Views in 2004. At that time they established the border issue may not even be a concern due to the ambivalence of Bush administration during a visit that year.

This was before the Harper government came to power, however. Regarding trade, a border lockdown would affect everyone adversely. Especially when Canadian resources are in high demand. So, while a majority of Canadian citizens want marijuana to be a legal and an accepted part of society, their views take a backseat to ignorance and fear from across the border. This has ultimately become a sovereignty issue. Will Canadians sit back and let our public policy be dictated?

If the current Canadian government has any say, the answer is an emphatic "yes." The Oct. 7, 2007 issue of the New York Times reported new legal and spending measures against drug use and distribution announced by the Harper government Thu., Oct. 4.

"Far too long now in Canada, governments have been sending out mixed messages on drugs," said Harper. "Canadians hardly know what the law is anymore."

Harper went on to discuss his proposed measures, including $64 million in increased funding for antidrug advertising and enforcement, as well as mandatory sentences for dealers and smugglers. He also included the ominous promise of more co-operation with the U.S.

With this crackdown, Canadian pot smokers will remain second-class citizens and have to keep a widely accepted, mostly harmless personal habit behind closed doors. Good people will be saddled with criminal records and all Canadian tax payers will continue to fund and promote a failing and dishonest drug strategy. If you're left with a bad taste in your mouth after reading all this, then welcome to the club!

So, what can we do? A referendum won't be coming any time soon, but the next best thing is to contact your local elected official and voice your concerns. Support politicians that will act on behalf of Canadian interests instead of American ones. It's important to note that while some members of the federal Liberal and Conservative parties support decriminalization, the Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and NDP all have it as part of their policy platforms.

It's my view that Canada should act as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world on what a liberated, compassionate and free society can look like and marijuana legalization fits into the scheme of things. With the research already in, how long will we wait until we have a government that acts on the fundamentals of truth and justice? And ultimately, that stands up for Canadian sovereignty?

In closing, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia said it best in 1944 as he worked to reverse a different form of prohibition:

"Prohibition cannot be enforced for the simple reason that the majority of American people do not want it enforced and are resisting its enforcement. That being so, the orderly thing to do under our form of government is to abolish a law which cannot be enforced, a law which the people of the country do not want enforced."


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Comments

ryan kelly i think you should be put in jail for your views! harper rock, down with marijuana and smokers! as far as i am concerned you are gay if you smoke pot. i have seen pot smokers gather in Riley park! it makes me sick. almost as sick as seeing emos walking the streets! they should be put in jail also! pot should give you 10 years in jail! ryan kelly i think you should go to jail for 20!

Canadians should remember Harper's narrow-minded and uninformed stance during the next election. How can we trust someone who ignores the mountain of research and anecdotal evidence from users regarding the safety and medical uses of marijuana? Harper is a typical kneejerk politician, doing the politically correct thing for his conservative extremist supporters.

well i have been chincing for some years now. and i have to disagree with davo, full time penis on his response. i think pot heads and users should be given the right to smoke some weed. i have to disagree on ryan kelly though. he is claming that is is ryan kelly when i really think that he is not ryan kelly and some other chince. weed should be legalized not glamourized and organized crime and drug dealers ultimately take a huge drop. look at europe and hollands laws on marijuanna. crime in amsterdame is low in related to drugs...... i have just farted and wetted my pants. ill follow up soon

This is a really poorly written article and the argument is very weak. People have been smoking for years and Iím sure teenagers and young adults 30 years ago were raising the same argument and it still hasnít gotten anywhere. Iím sure if it was feasible they would have regulated it. Newsflash to Ryan Kelly, if he says heís a social libertarian, he should know the meaning. Social libertarians believe in the well being of everyone. So even if one chooses to harm themselves and think that it is not bothering anyone elseÖthink again. It effects everybody. It strains the healthcare system, it is emotionally taxing for ppl that love them and if everyone were stoned no one would be productive. Besides once they start legalizing one thing it will lead to legalizing another.

Bedo, you redefine the term high&mighty, without being 'high' at all!

Your rebuttal lacks evidence and is ultimately laughable. You state: "I'm sure if it was feasible they would've regulated it?"
Why?

I've already gone over the prohibition model and its failings, cost and otherwise. Not to mention, I've already covered the facts of finance and the massive burden the drug war places on a nation's infrastructure. Once again, please read about that Fraser Inst study:
Fraser Institute study calls for legal pot

Or dig up the bi-partisan Canadian senate report that asked for full legalization for anyone over 16, and recommended amnesty for previous convictions:
- Senate committee recommends legalizing pot
- Legalize pot smoking, senators say


Or don't take my or their words for it (you should've already). Check out this Wall Street Journal piece written a few days ago by Mr. Cardoso (former president of Brazil), Mr. (former president of Colombia) and Mr. Zedillo (former president of Mexico):
The War on Drugs Is a Failure
Social libertarians, like nearly any decent member of civil society, recognize that their taxes should go towards building the common good.

However, no one's liberty should not be infringed on if they aren't hurting anyone except themselves. Not to be narrow, you can find a broad definition here, which shows it affects taxation, politics, or both, etc.

You mention the health system burden. Do you support legal tobacco smoking and alcohol? Why the double standard for marijuana, which time and time again has been proven to be in the same class? Harm reduction programs, coupled with the loss of prohibition, would actually boost the GDP as well as the health of Canadians.

You mention the loss of productivity. Where are your statistics on this? A reverse argument could be made, especially in the Sates, on lost productivity due to prosecution and incarceration.

A great number of successful citizens smoke. A great number of successful citizens don't. The same goes for laziness on both sides (smokers and non). These are the facts of life.

From the farside, I challenge you to find me a musician, writer or artist that hasn\'t tried it and made a personal choice about it. You might be listening to the music they made right now...

You mention a slippery slope that more drugs will be legal, which is a great point and a topic for further discussion. Organized crime/blac k market finance is actually fueled by prohibition since they have the only supply. Meanwhile the consumer is harmed by lack of regulation, safety, and visibility within society for assistance. This is magnified when the drugs are more difficult to come by, and addictive.

All of this affects the health of our dominion negatively. Criminal elements grow and prosper while our weakest citizens succumb to desperation and feel ostracized to the point where they don\'t feel comfortable seeking assistance.

As a contributing member of society in a higher tax bracket, nearly a quarter of my earnings go to government coffers. I am not a criminal. I'm productive and merely ask that our society finally use common sense to move forward on this issue. Current policy is based on assumptions and fears, such as the ones you presented above, and I sincerely hope for a day in my lifetime when intelligence will trump hurt feelings.

Further reading:
Kellogs takes a hit to their brand by losing Phelps for his bong toke: Dumping Phelps Over Bong R ip Damages Kellogg\'s Brand Reputation

Here<92>s an in-depth piece by Obama campaign organizer and former congressional speechwriter John V. Sontore about American Drug Policy fr om the start of Feb <92>09: Michael Phelps, Hypocrisy, and American Dru g Policy

Before he was president, Obama indicated that he was well aware that marijuana laws needed to be reformed and that the mythology of the \"war on drugs\" was nothing more than a fairy tale:
That's here: Obama On Weed-Barack Decriminalize marijuana

My opinion piece was written back in '07. The world faces a lot of issues right now, especially economic ones. The reality is that we need to get rid of wasteful spending (the drug war) and become more tolerant towards lifestyles that aren't straight-edge or puritan if we want to get out of this. Courageous decisions need to be made by our leaders. I apologize that my article rubbed you the wrong way. Hopefully you''ll take the facts into account and modify your position. Cheers!