Why It’s Time To Legalize Marijuana

Jun 22, 2013

After decades of wasted resources, clogged court­rooms and a shift in pub­lic per­cep­tion, let’s end the war on weed Some­time this year, if it hasn’t hap­pened already, the mil­lionth Cana­dian will be arrested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, Dana Larsen esti­mates.  The inde­fati­ga­ble B.C.-based activist for pot legal­iza­tion is think­ing of mark­ing the occa­sion with a spe­cial cer­e­mony.  True, it will be impos­si­ble to know exactly who the mil­lionth per­son is, but with the Con­ser­v­a­tive government’s amped-up war on drugs, it won’t be hard to find a nom­i­nee.  As Larsen notes, the war on drugs in Canada is mostly a war on mar­i­juana, “and most of that is a war on mar­i­juana users.” The num­bers bear him out.  Since the Tories came to power in 2006, and slammed the door on the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral government’s mud­dled plans to reduce or decrim­i­nal­ize mar­i­juana penal­ties, arrests for pot pos­ses­sion have jumped 41 per cent.  In those six years, police reported more than 405,000 marijuana-related arrests, roughly equiv­a­lent to the pop­u­la­tions of Regina and Saska­toon com­bined. In the statistic-driven world of polic­ing, pot users are the low-hanging fruit, says Larsen, direc­tor of Sen­si­ble BC, a non-profit group orga­niz­ing to put mar­i­juana decrim­i­nal­iza­tion on a provin­cial ref­er­en­dum bal­lot in 2014.  “We’re see­ing crime drop across Canada.  [Police] feel they’ve got noth­ing bet­ter to do.  You can throw a rock and find a mar­i­juana user,” he says over cof­fee in his Burn­aby home.  “It’s very easy to do.” But is it the right thing to do? Most cer­tainly that’s the view of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, which has been unshak­able in its belief that pot users are crim­i­nals, and that such crim­i­nals need arrest­ing if Canada is to be a safer place.  The mes­sage hasn’t changed though Canada’s crime rate has plum­meted to its low­est level in 40 years.  “It depends on which type of crime you’re talk­ing about,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Rob Nichol­son said in an inter­view with the Globe and Mail, a typ­i­cal defence of the Conservative’s omnibus crime bill, which includes new manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences for some drug crimes.  “Among other things, child sex­ual offences, those crimes are going up.  Drug crimes are going up, and so, again, much of what the Safe Streets and Com­mu­ni­ties Act was focused on was child sex­ual offences and drug crimes.” The min­is­ter is cor­rect if one takes a cur­sory look at the sta­tis­tics.  Two of the largest one-year increases in police-reported crimes in 2011 were a 40 per cent jump in child pornog­ra­phy cases ( 3,100 inci­dents ), and a seven per cent hike ( to 61,406 arrests ) for pot pos­ses­sion.  Taken together, all mar­i­juana offences-possession, grow­ing and trafficking-accounted for a record 78,000 arrests in 2011, or 69 per cent of all drug offences.  Sim­ple pot pos­ses­sion rep­re­sented 54 per cent of every drug crime that police man­aged to uncover.  This is more phony war than calamity, waged by a gov­ern­ment deter­mined to save us from a cannabis cri­sis of its own mak­ing.  To have the min­is­ter imply a moral equiv­a­lency between child sex­ual abuse and car­ry­ing a cou­ple of joints in your jeans under­scores the emo­tion­al­ism cloud­ing the issue: rea­son enough to look at why mar­i­juana is ille­gal in the first place. The Con­ser­v­a­tive hard line is increas­ingly out of step with its cit­i­zenry, and with the shift­ing mood in the United States, where two states-Colorado and Washington-have already legal­ized recre­ational use, where oth­ers have reduced penal­ties to a mis­de­meanour ticket and where many, like Cal­i­for­nia, have such lax rules on med­ical mar­i­juana that one is reminded of the “med­i­c­i­nal alco­hol” that drug­stores ped­dled with a wink dur­ing a pre­vi­ous failed exper­i­ment with pro­hi­bi­tion. In late May, the Cana­dian Drug Pol­icy Coali­tion added its voice to the debate with a sweep­ing report, “Get­ting to Tomor­row,” call­ing for the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion of all cur­rently ille­gal drugs, the reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of cannabis and the expan­sion of treat­ment and harm-reduction pro­grams.  The coali­tion of drug pol­icy experts, affil­i­ated with the Cen­tre for Applied Research in Men­tal Health and Addic­tion at Simon Fraser Uni­ver­sity, calls the increas­ing empha­sis on drug crim­i­nal­iza­tion under the Con­ser­v­a­tives an “over­whelm­ing fail­ure.” The high mar­i­juana use by Cana­dian minors is just one unin­tended con­se­quence of cur­rent drug laws, it con­cludes.  “Pro­hi­bi­tion abdi­cated respon­si­bil­ity for reg­u­lat­ing drug mar­kets to orga­nized crime and aban­dons pub­lic health mea­sures like age restric­tions and dos­ing con­trols.” There’s grow­ing con­sen­sus, at least out­side the Con­ser­v­a­tive cab­i­net room, that it’s time to take a hard look at toss­ing out a mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion that dates back to 1923-a Cana­dian law that has suc­ceeded in crim­i­nal­iz­ing suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions, clog­ging the courts, wast­ing tax­payer resources and enrich­ing gang­sters, while fail­ing to dampen demand for a plant that, by objec­tive mea­sures, is far more benign than alco­hol or tobacco. Why is mar­i­juana ille­gal? Well, Maclean’s must take a mea­sure of respon­si­bil­ity.  Back in the 1920s one of its high-profile cor­re­spon­dents was Emily Mur­phy, the Alberta mag­is­trate, suf­fragette and vir­u­lent anti-drug cru­sader, who fre­quently wrote under the pen name Janey Canuck.  She wrote a lurid series of arti­cles for the mag­a­zine that were later com­piled and expanded in her 1922 book, The Black Can­dle – you’ll find an excerpt from this book at the end of this piece.  She raged against “Negro” drug deal­ers and Chi­nese opium ped­dlers “of fishy blood” out to con­trol and debase the white race. Much of her wrath was directed at nar­cotics and the plight of the addict, but she also waged a hyper­bolic attack against the evils of smok­ing marijuana-then little-known and little-used recre­ation­ally, although the hemp plant had been a med­i­c­i­nal sta­ple in teas and tinc­tures.  Quot­ing uncrit­i­cally the view of the Los Ange­les police chief of the day, she reported: “Per­sons using this nar­cotic smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of dri­ving them com­pletely insane.  The addict loses all sense of moral respon­si­bil­ity.  Addicts to this drug, while under its influ­ence, are immune to pain, and could be severely injured with­out hav­ing any real­iza­tion of their con­di­tion.  While in this con­di­tion they become rav­ing mani­acs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of vio­lence to other per­sons using the most sav­age meth­ods of cru­elty with­out, as said before, any sense of moral respon­si­bil­ity.” In 1923, a year after The Black Candle’s release, Canada became one of the first coun­tries in the world to out­law cannabis, giv­ing it the same sta­tus as opium and other nar­cotics.  It’s impos­si­ble to know what influ­ence Murphy’s writ­ing had on the deci­sion because there was no pub­lic or par­lia­men­tary debate.  As noted by a 2002 Cana­dian Sen­ate com­mit­tee report, “Cannabis: Our Posi­tion for a Cana­dian Pub­lic Pol­icy”: “Early drug leg­is­la­tion was largely based on a moral panic, racist sen­ti­ment and a noto­ri­ous absence of debate.” The Sen­ate report, like the royal com­mis­sion on the non­med­ical use of drugs chaired by Ger­ald LeDain in the early 1970s, con­cluded that the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of cannabis had no sci­en­tific basis, but its use by ado­les­cents should be dis­cour­aged.  The LeDain reports, between 1970–73, were ahead of their time-to their detri­ment.  Com­mis­sion­ers gen­er­ated reams of stud­ies on all drug use and held cross-country hear­ings ( even record­ing John Lennon’s pro-pot views dur­ing an in-camera ses­sion in Mon­tréal ).  LeDain rec­om­mended the repeal of cannabis pro­hi­bi­tion, stat­ing “the costs to a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of indi­vid­u­als, the major­ity of whom are young peo­ple, and to soci­ety gen­er­ally, of a pol­icy of pro­hi­bi­tion of sim­ple pos­ses­sion are not jus­ti­fied by the poten­tial for harm.” Even in a coun­ter­cul­ture era of love beads and Trudeau­ma­nia the rec­om­men­da­tions went nowhere. Obscu­rity also befell the 2002 Sen­ate report 30 years later.  The sen­a­tors rec­om­mended legal­iza­tion, as well as amnesty for past con­vic­tions, adding: “We are able to cat­e­gor­i­cally state that, used in mod­er­a­tion, cannabis in itself poses very lit­tle dan­ger to users and to soci­ety as a whole, but spe­cific types of use rep­re­sent risks to users,” espe­cially the “tiny minor­ity” of ado­les­cents who are heavy users.  Gen­er­ally, though, the greater harm was not in cannabis use, the sen­a­tors said, but in the after-effects of the crim­i­nal penal­ties. Both reports van­ished in a puff of smoke, while 90 years on Emily Mur­phy endures.  She is cel­e­brated in a statue on Par­lia­ment Hill for her lead­ing role among the Famous Five, who fought in the courts and were ulti­mately suc­cess­ful in hav­ing women rec­og­nized as “per­sons” under the law.  And she endures in the spirit of Canada’s mar­i­juana laws, which con­tinue to reflect some of her hys­ter­i­cal views.  Blame polit­i­cal cow­ardice, the fear of being labelled “soft on crime.” As a cor­re­spon­dent to the British med­ical jour­nal The Lancet said of the slow pace of change for drug pro­hi­bi­tion inter­na­tion­ally: “bad pol­icy is still good pol­i­tics.” Putting emo­tions, fears and rhetoric aside, the case for legal­iz­ing per­sonal use of cannabis hangs on address­ing two key ques­tions.  What is the cost and social impact of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion? And what are the risks to pub­lic health, to social order and per­sonal safety of unleash­ing on Canada a vice that has been pro­hib­ited for some 90 years? The cost of pro­hi­bi­tion Esti­mates vary wildly on the cost impact of mar­i­juana use and of enforce­ment.  Back in 2002 the Sen­ate report pegged the annual cost of cannabis to law enforce­ment and the jus­tice sys­tem at $300 mil­lion to $500 mil­lion.  The costs of enforc­ing crim­i­nal­iza­tion, the report con­cluded, “are dis­pro­por­tion­ately high given the drug’s social and health con­se­quences.” Neil Boyd, a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Simon Fraser Uni­ver­sity, con­cludes in a new study financed by Sen­si­ble BC that the annual police– and court-related costs of enforc­ing mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion in B.C.  alone is “rea­son­ably and con­ser­v­a­tively” esti­mated at $10.5 mil­lion per year.  B.C.  has the high­est police-reported rate of cannabis offences of any province, and ris­ing: 19,400 in 2011.  Of those, almost 16,600 were for pos­ses­sion, lead­ing to almost 3,800 charges, dou­ble the num­ber in 2005.  As arrests increase, Boyd esti­mates costs will hit $18.8 mil­lion within five years.  Added to that will be the cost of jail­ing peo­ple under new manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences included in the Safe Streets and Com­mu­ni­ties Act. The Con­ser­v­a­tives’ National Anti-Drug Strat­egy, imple­mented in 2007, shifted drug strat­egy from Health Canada to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.  Most of the $528 mil­lion bud­geted for the strat­egy between 2012 and 2017 goes to enforce­ment, rather than treat­ment, pub­lic edu­ca­tion or health pro­mo­tion, the drug pol­icy coali­tion report notes.  “Activ­i­ties such as RCMP drug enforce­ment, drug inter­dic­tion and the use of the mil­i­tary in inter­na­tional drug con­trol efforts [fur­ther] drive up polic­ing, mil­i­tary and secu­rity bud­gets,” it says. Canada has always taken a softer line on pros­e­cut­ing drug offences than the U.S., which has recorded 45 mil­lion arrests since pres­i­dent Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971.  More than half of those in U.S.  fed­eral prison are there for drug offences.  The Cana­dian drug incar­cer­a­tion rate is nowhere near as high.  But the government’s omnibus crime bill includes a suite of harder penal­ties.  It requires a six-month min­i­mum sen­tence for those grow­ing as few as six cannabis plants, with esca­lat­ing min­i­mums.  It also dou­bled the max­i­mum penalty to 14 years for traf­fick­ing pot.  ( In Col­orado, by con­trast, it’s now legal for an adult to grow six plants for per­sonal use or to pos­sess up to an ounce of mar­i­juana.  ) At the heart of the crime bill, in the government’s view, is pub­lic safety through crim­i­nal appre­hen­sion.  The party won suc­ces­sive elec­tions with that as a key elec­tion plank, and the senior min­is­ters for crime and jus­tice see it as an inal­ter­able man­date.  Nichol­son rose in the Com­mons this March say­ing the gov­ern­ment makes “no apol­ogy” for its tough-on-crime agenda, includ­ing its war on pot.  “Since we’ve come to office, we’ve intro­duced 30 pieces of leg­is­la­tion aimed at keep­ing our streets and com­mu­ni­ties safe,” he said.  Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Vic Toews, in response to the pot legal­iza­tion votes in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton, has flatly stated: “We will not be decrim­i­nal­iz­ing or legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana.” Back in 2010, Toews made it clear that pub­lic safety trumps con­cerns about increas­ing costs at a time of falling crime rates.  “Let’s not talk about sta­tis­tics,” he told a Sen­ate com­mit­tee study­ing the omnibus crime bill.  “Let’s talk about dan­ger,” he said.  “I want peo­ple to be sa! fe.” But there are risks in pro­hi­bi­tion, too.  The most obvi­ous are the gang hits and gun bat­tles that indeed impact the safety of Cana­dian streets, much of it fuelled by turf bat­tles over the ille­gal drug trade.  Nor are crim­i­nal deal­ers prone to worry about con­t­a­m­i­nants in the prod­uct from dubi­ous grow ops, or the age of their cus­tomers. Cana­dian chil­dren and youth, in fact, are the heav­i­est users of cannabis in the devel­oped world, accord­ing to a report released in April by UNICEF.  The agency, using a World Health Orga­ni­za­tion ( WHO ) sur­vey of 15,000 Cana­di­ans, found 28 per cent of Cana­dian chil­dren ( aged 11, 13, and 15 ) tried mar­i­juana in the past 12 months, the high­est rate among 29 nations.  Fewer than 10 per cent admit­ted to being fre­quent users.  A Health Canada sur­vey puts the aver­age first use of pot at 15.7 years, and esti­mates the num­ber of “youth” ( ages 15–24 ) who have tried pot at a lower 22 per cent-the same rate as a sur­vey of Ontario high school stu­dent use by the Cen­tre for Addic­tion and Men­tal Health. UNICEF called child mar­i­juana use a “sig­nif­i­cant con­cern” for rea­sons includ­ing pos­si­ble impacts on phys­i­cal and men­tal health as well as school per­for­mance.  Cana­dian youth, it spec­u­lated, believe occa­sional pot use is of lit­tle risk to their health, and “less risky than reg­u­lar smok­ing of cig­a­rettes.” UNICEF warned, how­ever, of sig­nif­i­cant puni­tive risks to pot use, includ­ing expul­sion from school and arrest.  It noted 4,700 Cana­di­ans between ages 12 to 17 were charged with a cannabis offence in 2006.  “Legal sanc­tions against young peo­ple gen­er­ally lead to even worse out­comes,” the report said, “not improve­ments in their lives.” Nor do Canada’s sanc­tions curb under­age use.  Ger­many, Por­tu­gal, Bel­gium, Italy and the Nether­lands are all coun­tries where pot use has been decrim­i­nal­ized, legal­ized or lib­er­al­ized, and all have rates of child cannabis use that range from one-third to more than one-half lower than in Canada.  Why Canada’s rates are higher is a bit of a mys­tery.  Part of it is the ready avail­abil­ity from deal­ers with no scru­ples about tar­get­ing youth, and the cachet of for­bid­den fruit-or rather, buds.  Then there’s the storm of mixed mes­sages we send young peo­ple.  There’s the laissez-faire atti­tude of many par­ents who used pot them­selves.  Then days like the annual 4/20 cel­e­bra­tions every April 20, when police turn a blind eye to open pot use and sale, cloud the issue of legal­ity.  Even the fed­eral gov­ern­ment vil­i­fies cannabis on one hand, while its health min­istry offers a qual­i­fied endorse­ment of its use as a med­i­cine. Mason Tvert, a key strate­gist in Colorado’s suc­cess­ful legal­iza­tion vote, says crim­i­nal­iza­tion has cre­ated an unreg­u­lated under­ground mar­ket of deal­ers who have no com­punc­tion about sell­ing pot to minors.  “Whether you want mar­i­juana to be legal or not is irrel­e­vant.  Clearly there is a need for some­thing to change if our goal is to keep mar­i­juana from young peo­ple,” he says in an inter­view with Maclean’s dur­ing a foray into the Lower Main­land to cam­paign on behalf of Sen­si­ble BC’s ref­er­en­dum plan. If you want to see the value of reg­u­lat­ing a legal prod­uct, com­bined with proof-of-age require­ments and pub­lic edu­ca­tion cam­paigns, look to the falling rates of cig­a­rette smok­ing among young peo­ple in both the U.S.  and Canada, Tvert says.  “We didn’t have to arrest a sin­gle adult for smok­ing a cig­a­rette in order to reduce teen smok­ing.  So why arrest adults to pre­vent teens from using mar­i­juana?” UNICEF also rec­om­mended that child pot use can be reduced more effec­tively with the same kind of pub­lic infor­ma­tion cam­paigns and other aggres­sive mea­sures used to cur­tail tobacco use.  Cana­dian chil­dren, it noted, have the third-lowest rate of tobacco smok­ers among 29 nations.  Remark­ably, whether you use the 28 or 22 per cent esti­mate, more Cana­dian chil­dren have at least tried pot than the num­ber who who smoke or drink heav­ily.  The WHO data found just four per cent of Cana­dian chil­dren smoke cig­a­rettes at least once a week, and 16 per cent said they had been drunk more than twice.  It’s note­wor­thy, too, that tobacco, alco­hol and cannabis use by Cana­dian chil­dren have all declined sig­nif­i­cantly since the last WHO sur­vey in 2002.  Per­haps we under­es­ti­mate the com­mon sense of our young people-sometimes at their peril. There are ample rea­sons to dis­cour­age chil­dren from the use of intox­i­cants at a time of for­ma­tive social, phys­i­cal and emo­tional devel­op­ment.  It’s note­wor­thy, though, that Canada’s teens have at least cho­sen a safer vice in pot-apart from its illegality-than either alco­hol or tobacco.  As Tvert claims, backed by ample sci­en­tific data, pot is not phys­i­cally addic­tive ( though peo­ple can become psy­cho­log­i­cally depen­dent ) and it is less toxic than either tobacco or alco­hol. An unfair law, unevenly applied It was a bleak, wet night in March when 100 peo­ple gath­ered in a lec­ture hall at Simon Fraser Uni­ver­sity in Burn­aby to hear an unlikely cast of speak­ers make the case for mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion, an event spon­sored by Sen­si­ble BC.  Among the speak­ers was Derek Cor­ri­gan, the city mayor, who cut his teeth as a defence lawyer.  “Over the course of my career I gained an under­stand­ing of the nature of the peo­ple who were using [cannabis] and real­ized this was a vast cross-section of our soci­ety,” he said.  They were every­day peo­ple, not crim­i­nals, he said.  Most smoke with impunity in their homes and social cir­cles, but it was young peo­ple, with­out that insu­la­tion of social respectabil­ity, whom he most often defended.  “In crim­i­nal law we used to call it the ‘I-didn’t-respect-the-officer-enough’ offence.  If you apol­o­gized enough you were unlikely to be charged,” he said.  “I found that to be rep­re­hen­si­ble.” Among the other speak­ers was lawyer Randie Long, who used to have a lucra­tive side­line as an hourly-paid fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor deal­ing with mar­i­juana charges.  There is a cor­rupt­ing influ­ence to the war on drugs that hits far closer to home than the car­tels, the gangs and the deal­ers, he said.  It cor­rupts the police and the jus­tice sys­tem itself.  “There’s easy money avail­able from the feds for law enforcement”-all they need are the arrests to jus­tify it.  “The pros­e­cu­tors use stats.  The cops use stats,” he said.  “Bet­ter stats mean bet­ter money.” It’s under­stand­able that many believe mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion is quasi-legal.  In Van­cou­ver, it all but is.  It is the stated pol­icy of Van­cou­ver police to place a low pri­or­ity on enforc­ing cannabis pos­ses­sion charges.  But out­side Van­cou­ver, most B.C.  munic­i­pal­i­ties are patrolled by local detach­ments of the fed­eral RCMP-and there, the hunt is on.  Boyd, the crim­i­nol­o­gist, has taken a hard look at the num­bers.  In 2010, for instance, there were only six charges rec­om­mended by Van­cou­ver police where mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion was the only offence.  There is a “strik­ing dif­fer­ence” in enforce­ment in areas patrolled by the RCMP, Boyd notes in his report.  The rate of all pot pos­ses­sion charges laid by Van­cou­ver police in 2010 was 30 per 100,000.  In RCMP ter­ri­tory, it ranged from 79 per 100,000 in Rich­mond and 90 per 100,000 in North Van­cou­ver to almost 300 per 100,000 in Nel­son and 588 per 100,000 in Tofino. RCMP Supt.  Brian Can­tera, head of drug enforce­ment in the province, explained the jump in pot pos­ses­sion charges in B.C.  as “bet­ter work by polic­ing the prob­lem.” He wrote in an email to Boyd: “Despite the views of some, most Cana­di­ans do not want this drug around, as they rec­og­nize the dan­gers of it.  The pub­lic does not want another sub­stance to add to the car­nage on high­ways and other com­mu­nity prob­lems.  Polic­ing is reflec­tive of what the pub­lic does not want.” Yet many polls sug­gest what the pub­lic does not want is a pro­hi­bi­tion on mar­i­juana.  Last year 68 per cent of Cana­di­ans told poll­ster Angus Reid that the war on drugs is a “fail­ure.” Nation­ally, 57 per cent said they favour legal­iz­ing pot.  In B.C., 75 per cent sup­ported mov­ing toward reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of pot.  The num­ber of B.C.  respon­dents who said pos­sess­ing a mar­i­juana cig­a­rette should lead to a crim­i­nal record: 14 per cent. Despite the zeal for enforce­ment, most pot arrests in Canada never result in con­vic­tions.  In 2010, just 7,500 of pos­ses­sion charges for all types of drugs resulted in guilty verdicts-about 10 per cent of all 74,000 pos­ses­sion offences.  Most pos­ses­sion busts never make it to trial.  Of those reach­ing court, more than half of the charges are stayed, with­drawn or result in acquit­tals.  This dis­mal bat­ting aver­age begs two ques­tions.  Is this a wise use of police resources and court time? And what cri­te­ria selected the unlucky 10 per cent with a guilty ver­dict? Aside from the prob­a­bil­ity it is pre­dom­i­nantly young males, there are no national break­downs by income or race.  All told, pot pro­hi­bi­tion is “inef­fec­tive and costly,” the 2002 Sen­ate report con­cluded.  “Users are mar­gin­al­ized and exposed to dis­crim­i­na­tion by police and the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem; soci­ety sees the power and wealth of orga­nized crime enhanced as crim­i­nals ben­e­fit from pro­hi­bi­tion; and gov­ern­ments see their abi! lity to pre­vent at-risk use dimin­ished.” The human cost of pro­hi­bi­tion Vic­to­ria res­i­dent Myles Wilkin­son was thrilled to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans this Feb­ru­ary.  But when he pre­sented him­self to U.S.  Cus­toms agents at Toronto’s Pear­son Inter­na­tional Air­port, he was refused entry to the U.S.  because of a mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion conviction-from 1981.  “I had two grams of cannabis.  I paid a $50 fine,” he told CBC news.  He was 19.  “I can’t believe that this is hap­pen­ing, for some­thing that hap­pened 32 years ago.” But it can and it does, and the fact that Wilkinson’s Super Bowl con­test was spon­sored by a brew­ery adds a painful ironic twist.  Wilkinson’s predica­ment is sadly typ­i­cal.  Cana­di­ans in their late teens to mid-20s are by far the most likely to be accused of drug offences, StatsCan reports.  They are also the least likely to be able to afford the sev­eral thou­sand dol­lar defence lawyers typ­i­cally bill to fight a case that goes to trial. As for the scale of pot use in Canada, look to the per­son on your left and the per­son on your right.  If nei­ther of them have vio­lated the law by smok­ing pot then it must be you, and prob­a­bly one of the oth­ers, too.  About 40 per cent of Cana­di­ans 15 and older admit­ted in a 2011 Health Canada sur­vey to have smoked pot in their life­time.  Based on the num­ber of Cana­di­ans 15 and older, that’s 10.4 mil­lion peo­ple.  Just nine per cent of sur­vey respon­dents said they smoked pot in the last year, com­pared to 14 per cent in 2004.  Male past-year cannabis users out­num­ber females by two to one, and young peo­ple 15 to 24 are more than three times more likely to have smoked pot in the past year com­pared to those 25 and older. The same phone sur­vey of 10,000 Cana­di­ans found that the alco­hol con­sump­tion of one-quarter of Cana­di­ans puts them at risk of such chronic or acute con­di­tions as liver dis­ease, can­cers, injuries and over­doses.  If there is a cri­sis, it’s in that legal drug: alco­hol. Legal­iza­tion and the risk to pub­lic safety Cana­di­ans now have the lux­ury of look­ing to the social incu­ba­tors of Wash­ing­ton state and Col­orado to assess the poten­tial risks of adding pot to the menu of legal­ized vices.  Crit­ics have already pre­dicted the out­come: a mas­sive increase in pot use, car­nage on the high­ways, a lost gen­er­a­tion of under­per­form­ing ston­ers cough­ing up their can­cer­ous lungs, Hells Angels becom­ing the Seagram’s of weed. As com­men­ta­tor David Frum described it in a col­umn this spring on the Daily Beast web­site: “A world of weaker fam­i­lies, absent par­ents, and shriv­el­ling job oppor­tu­ni­ties is a world in which more Amer­i­cans will seek a cheap and easy escape from their depress­ing real­ity.  Legal­ized mar­i­juana, like legal­ized tobacco, will become a diver­sion for those who feel they have the least to lose.” These are all legit­i­mate, if often exag­ger­ated, fears that must be addressed. Will pot use increase? There’s lit­tle evi­dence inter­na­tion­ally to sug­gest a surge in use, at least any more than it has as an eas­ily obtain­able ille­gal sub­stance.  The 2002 Sen­ate report con­cluded: “We have not legal­ized cannabis and we have one of the high­est rates [of use] in the world.  Coun­tries adopt­ing a more lib­eral pol­icy have, for the most part, rates of usage lower than ours, which sta­bi­lized after a short period of growth.” The Nether­lands, where mar­i­juana is avail­able in hun­dreds of adult-only cof­fee shops, is a case in point.  The 2012 United Nations World Drug Report, using its own sources, pegs the level of use there at just 7.7 per cent of those aged 15 to 64.  The U.S.  has the seventh-highest rate of pot smok­ers, 14.1 per cent, while Canada ranks eighth at 12.7 per cent.  Spain and Italy, which have decrim­i­nal­ized pos­ses­sion for all psy­choac­tive drugs, are inter­est­ing con­trasts.  Cannabis use in Italy is 14.6 per cent, while Spain, at 10.6 per cent, is lower than the U.S.  or Canada. Is cannabis a gate­way to harder drugs? Again the 2002 Sen­ate report con­cluded after exten­sive study: “Thirty years’ expe­ri­ence in the Nether­lands dis­proves this clearly, as do the lib­eral poli­cies in Spain, Italy and Por­tu­gal,” the report said.  “And here in Canada, despite the grow­ing increase in cannabis users [at the time of the report], we have not had a pro­por­tion­ate increase in users of hard drugs.” In fact, use of cocaine, speed, hal­lu­cino­gens and ecstasy are all at lower rates than in 2004, the Health Canada sur­vey reported in 2011. The risks of drugged dri­ving: This is unde­ni­ably an area of con­cern, but one we’ve lived with for decades.  Cana­dian law since 2008 allows police to con­duct manda­tory road­side assess­ments if dri­vers are sus­pected of drug impair­ment.  There isn’t yet a road­side breath or blood test for drugs, but police can require a blood test under med­ical super­vi­sion.  There were 1,900 drugged dri­ving inci­dents in 2011-two per cent of all impaired dri­ving offences in Canada. Wash­ing­ton state has a stan­dard of five nanograms per mil­li­l­itre of blood of marijuana’s psy­choac­tive chem­i­cal, THC, but there is not always a cor­re­la­tion between those lev­els and impair­ment.  “We aren’t going to arrest some­body unless there’s impair­ment,” Lt.  Rob Sharpe, of Washington’s State Patrol Impaired Dri­ving Sec­tion, told the Seat­tle Times. So far there has been not a spike in Wash­ing­ton in “green DUIs,” as they’re called.  One rea­son for this may be that many stud­ies have shown that peo­ple react reck­lessly under influ­ence of alco­hol, and cau­tiously when stoned.  One admit­tedly small study at Israel’s Ben Gurion Uni­ver­sity found alco­hol and THC were “equally detri­men­tal” to dri­ving abil­i­ties.  “After THC admin­is­tra­tion, sub­jects drove sig­nif­i­cantly slower than in the con­trol con­di­tion,” the study found, “while after alco­hol inges­tion, sub­jects drove significantly faster.” A World Health Orga­ni­za­tion paper on the health effects of cannabis use says an impaired driver’s risk-taking is one of the great­est dan­gers, “which the avail­able evi­dence sug­gests is reduced by cannabis intox­i­ca­tion, by con­trast with alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion, which con­sis­tently increases risk-taking.” Most cer­tainly crim­i­nal sanc­tions for any form of impaired dri­ving are nec­es­sary, as are edu­ca­tion cam­paigns. What is the health impact of pot? Expect fur­ther stud­ies in the states where legal­iza­tion has unfet­tered researchers.  In Canada, Ger­ald Thomas, an ana­lyst with the Cen­tre for Addic­tions Research of B.C., and Chris Davis, an ana­lyst with the Cana­dian Cen­tre on Sub­stance Abuse, used Health Canada data to chart the health and social costs of cannabis, tobacco and alco­hol.  Their findings: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user; alcohol-related health costs were $165 per user; cannabis-related health costs were $20 per user.  Enforce­ment costs added $153 per drinker and $328 for cannabis user.  In other words, 94 per cent of the cost to soci­ety of cannabis comes from keep­ing it ille­gal. Stud­ies on inhal­ing pot smoke have yielded some sur­pris­ing results.  A 2006 U.S.  study, the largest of its kind, found reg­u­lar and even heavy mar­i­juana use doesn’t cause lung can­cer.  The find­ings among users who had smoked as many as 22,000 joints over their lives, “were against our expec­ta­tions” that there’d be a link to can­cer, Don­ald Tashkin of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los Ange­les told the Wash­ing­ton Post.  “What we found instead was no asso­ci­a­tion at all, and even a sug­ges­tion of some pro­tec­tive effect.” Another study com­pared lung func­tion over 20 years between tobacco and mar­i­juana smok­ers.  Tobacco smok­ers lost lung func­tion but pot use had the oppo­site effect, mar­gin­ally increas­ing capac­ity, said the study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion.  Cannabi­noids in mar­i­juana smoke “have been rec­og­nized to have poten­tial anti­tu­mour prop­er­ties,” noted a 2009 study by researchers at Brown Uni­ver­sity.  A study look­ing at mar­i­juana use and head and neck squamous-cell can­cer found an increased risk for smok­ers and drinkers, while “mod­er­ate mar­i­juana use is asso­ci­ated with reduced risk.” Cer­tainly it is past time for seri­ous and impar­tial study of the ben­e­fits and risks of med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana, some­thing that decrim­i­nal­iza­tion would facil­i­tate. Pot as the lesser of two evils: Let’s dis­pense once and for all with the stereo­type of the unmo­ti­vated stoner.  There are also unmo­ti­vated drunks, cig­a­rette smok­ers and milk drinkers.  Stud­ies have ruled out “the exis­tence of the so-called amo­ti­va­tional syn­drome,” the Sen­ate report noted a decade ago.  Gen­er­a­tions of pot smok­ers from the Boomers onward have some­how held it together, build­ing fam­i­lies and careers.  Mirac­u­lously, the last three U.S.  pres­i­dents man­aged to lift them­selves beyond their admit­ted mar­i­juana use to seek the high­est office in the land.  Once there, they for­got whence they came, and con­tin­ued the war on drugs. Con­sider, too, the opin­ion of retired Seat­tle police chief Norm Stam­per, one of many who con­vinced a solid major­ity of vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton state last Novem­ber to endorse legal­iza­tion.  “I strongly believe-and most peo­ple agree-that our laws should pun­ish peo­ple who do harm to oth­ers,” he writes in the fore­word to the 2009 best­seller Mar­i­juana is Safer: So Why Are We Dri­ving Peo­ple to Drink? “But by ban­ning the use of mar­i­juana and pun­ish­ing indi­vid­u­als who merely pos­sess the sub­stance, it is dif­fi­cult to see what harm we are try­ing to pre­vent.  It bears repeat­ing: from my own work and the expe­ri­ences of other mem­bers of the law enforce­ment com­mu­nity, it is abun­dantly clear that mar­i­juana is rarely, if ever, the cause of harm­fully dis­rup­tive or vio­lent behav­iour.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that mar­i­juana use often helps to tamp down ten­sions where they oth­er­wise might exist.” As for pot’s health impact, Stam­per con­curs with the the­sis of the book: study after study finds pot far less toxic and addic­tive than booze.  “By pro­hibit­ing mar­i­juana we are steer­ing peo­ple toward a sub­stance that far too many peo­ple already abuse, namely alco­hol.  Can mar­i­juana be abused? Of course,” he says.  But “it is a much safer prod­uct for social and recre­ational use than alco­hol.” Mason Tvert, a co-author of the Mar­i­juana is Safer book, notes mul­ti­ple stud­ies show it is impos­si­ble to con­sume enough weed to over­dose, yet as a teen he had to be rushed uncon­scious by ambu­lance to hos­pi­tal to have his stom­ach pumped after drink­ing a near-lethal amount of alco­hol.  “We know alco­hol kills brain cells with­out a doubt,” he says.  “That’s what a hang­over is, it’s like the funeral pro­ces­sion for your brain cells.” Tvert, very much a show­man in the early days of the legal­iza­tion cam­paign in Col­orado, ham­mered relent­lessly on the “benign” nature of pot, com­pared to alco­hol.  His orga­ni­za­tion spon­sored a bill­board fea­tur­ing a bikini-clad beauty, mim­ic­k­ing the usual approach to ped­dling beer.  In this case, though, the mes­sage was: “Mar­i­juana: No hang­overs.  No vio­lence.  No carbs!” Tvert went so far as to call anti-legalization oppo­nent John Hick­en­looper, then mayor of Den­ver, “a drug dealer” because he ran a suc­cess­ful brew pub.  Now, Tvert notes with sweet irony, Hick­en­looper is gov­er­nor, tasked with imple­ment­ing the régime for legal­ized weed. The rewards of legal­iza­tion Stop the Vio­lence B.C.-a coali­tion of pub­lic health offi­cials, aca­d­e­mics, cur­rent and for­mer politicians-is try­ing to take the emo­tion out of the legal­iza­tion debate by build­ing science-based counter-arguments to enforce­ment.  One of its mem­ber stud­ies con­cludes B.C.  would reap $500 mil­lion a year in tax­a­tion and licens­ing rev­enues from a liquor-control-board style of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion and sale. While some see those num­bers as unduly opti­mistic, both Wash­ing­ton and Col­orado are look­ing at lower enforce­ment costs and a rev­enue bonanza from tax­a­tion and reg­u­la­tion.  An impact analy­sis for Col­orado, with a pop­u­la­tion slightly larger than British Colum­bia, pre­dicts a $12-million sav­ing in enforce­ment costs in the first year, ris­ing to $40 mil­lion “as courts and pris­ons adapt to fewer and fewer vio­la­tors.” It pre­dicts com­bined sav­ings and new rev­enue of $60 mil­lion, “with a poten­tial for this num­ber to dou­ble after 2017.” In the U.S., so far, the Obama admin­is­tra­tion has shown no incli­na­tion to use fed­eral drug laws to trump the state ini­tia­tives.  Dana Larsen is bank­ing on a sim­i­lar response from Ottawa, should Sen­si­ble BC man­age to get quasi-legalization passed in a Sep­tem­ber 2014 ref­er­en­dum.  The bar is set high.  They need to gather, over a 90-day span this fall, sig­na­tures from 10 per cent of the reg­is­tered vot­ers in every one of B.C.’s 85 elec­toral dis­tricts to force a referendum-just as vot­ers ral­lied to kill the Har­mo­nized Sales Tax, against the wishes of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.  The vote, should it go ahead, would seek to amend the Police Act, instruct­ing depart­ments not to enforce cannabis pos­ses­sion.  It would be the first step, says Larsen, to a national repeal of pro­hi­bi­tion. Would the fed­eral gov­ern­ment go to war with a province to pro­tect a 90-year-old law built on myths, fears and hys­te­ria; a law that crushed the ambi­tions of count­less thou­sands of young peo­ple; a law that mil­lions vio­late when it suits their pur­pose? Likely, but it would be one hell of a fight.  After the legal­iza­tion vote was decided in Wash­ing­ton last Novem­ber, the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment posted a humourous online guide to pot use, enti­tled Mar­i­jwhat­now? Yes, it said, those over 21 can carry an ounce of pot.  No, you can’t smoke it in pub­lic.  Will Seat­tle police help fed­eral inves­ti­ga­tions of mar­i­juana use in the state? Not a chance.  There was, between the lines, a pal­pa­ble relief that they no longer had to play bad cops to a bad law.  Mar­i­jwhat­now? ended with a clip from Lord of the Rings.  Gan­dalf and Bilbo are smok­ing a pipe.  “Gan­dalf, my friend,” says Bilbo, “this will be a night to remem­ber.” Per­haps one day Cana­di­ans will be as lucky. Source: Maclean’s Mag­a­zine (Canada) Copy­right: 2013 Maclean Hunter Pub­lish­ing Ltd. Con­tact: letters@​macleans.​ca Web­site: http://​www​.macleans​.ca/ Author: Ken MacQueen

5d51669073sativa.jpg 150x118 Why It’s Time To Legalize Marijuana

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Why It’s Time To Legal­ize Marijuana

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