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Possible dangers of cannabis does not justify elaborate and expensive anti-drug regime

By Hempology | August 2, 2007

Chronicle Herald, NS
30 Jul 2007
Dan Leger


IT’S TIME to admit that one of the biggest “drug problems” in this country is the obsolete legal framework that criminalizes, stigmatizes and ultimately fails to regulate marijuana use.

This spring, a United Nations agency ranked Canadians in the top five in world marijuana use.  The UN calls us a land of stoners.

I think that’s sheer baloney, despite the occasional whiff of pot smoke I detect drifting down Argyle Street.

At 53 years old and having been a high school student in the late 1960s, I know what the stuff smells like.  Recreational drug use has been an issue since I was a boy.

And since those faraway days, I’ve been of the view that most pot smoking is pretty harmless.  When it’s done in moderation, people have fun and no one gets hurt. 

I know, I know, excessive pot smoking has dangers and smoking anything is generally not good for one’s health.  But I wonder if the dangers justify the elaborate, expensive and easily abused anti-drug regime that has dominated since the 1960s.

If more people really are smoking pot than ever before – a disputable factoid – then the anti-pot laws have been an obvious and abject failure.  That means decades of heavy-handed enforcement, billions of dollars for police and technology and vastly expensive court proceedings have been mostly wasted.

On the other side of the coin, even if fewer people are smoking up, the law can’t claim credit for it.  Canadians are more health-conscious now than ever before and they stay away from smoking for that reason, not because of legal edict.

In fact, the state itself has sent mixed messages over the years about pot.

Ottawa has commissioned studies and proposed reforms.  At the same time, it has preached against drug use and hired cops to enforce its anachronistic laws.  It has jailed the young and saddled one in 30 Canadians with the taint of a criminal record.

I can’t think of a single positive outcome from all that effort and money.

In fact, if marijuana was simply made legal, most drug crimes and many drug problems would disappear overnight.

That’s because if you take weed away from professional dealers and biker gangs, otherwise law-abiding pot smokers will never meet them.

Dope dealers see drugs as a business, not as recreation.  And they’re the ones with more dangerous products on hand: cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, even heroin.

Keep people away from the drug underworld and fewer will get tangled up with stronger stuff and far fewer will get hurt.

The current Tory government is more about demonization of marijuana than reform, sneering at reforms the previous Liberal government had proposed.  Even that fell apart due to drug paranoia in the U.S.  and worries about our borders.

But most pot smokers are peaceful citizens who have never even seen heroin and wouldn’t waste their money on cocaine.

Yet prohibition criminalizes them.  And once they break one law which seems so patently unjust, respect erodes for other laws.  Meanwhile, we support a massive enforcement structure to pick on college students and the under-employed, rather than on child molesters and terrorists.

Top cops understand that.  The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is on record as saying that broad enforcement of pot-possession laws steals resources from more pressing police matters.

However, the Canadian Police Association, which represents rank-and-file cops, disagrees and wants the laws strictly enforced.  But it’s the CPA’s job to boost job prospects for police officers.  Anti-pot laws do that.

It’s also obvious that hauling stoned kids off to jail is a lot less hassle than, say, taking on the Mafia.

By the way, legalizing weed won’t increase consumption.  People in our hyper-competitive society still have to work or study.  For the vast majority, legal weed won’t change that.

And consider this.  Legalizing and taxing weed could bring in big bucks for government.  In 2004, the conservative Fraser Institute estimated Ottawa could raise as much as $2 billion a year from taxing marijuana.

According to the John Howard Society, 1.5 million Canadians have criminal records for possession.  Seven out of 10 marijuana arrests are for just that, simple possession.  Yet convictions carry the stigma of a criminal record.

It’s time, almost 40 years after the LeDain Commission called for more liberal pot laws, to make the stuff legal.  And to get rid of a needless stigma for so many citizens.

Dan Leger is director of news content for The Chronicle Herald.  The opinions expressed here are his own.

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