Should marijuana be made legal? One man’s opinion.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 2, 2013  Canada was the first nation in the world to ban cannabis, back in 1923, driven to action by a transplanted Alberta magistrate, eugenicist and racist, pen-named ‘Janey Canuck’.   A prolific Maclean’s Magazine columnist whose book, ‘The Black Candle’, warned about the dangers of “Chinese opium peddlers” and “Negro drug dealers;” she convinced legislators to adopt prohibition without a word of public debate.

 So it was fitting that Maclean’s, in a recent issue on cannabis, reviewed the facts, acknowledged the error of its ways, and is now calling for legalization.  The facts can be summarized as follows:

 1.  Safety.  Well nothing is perfectly safe, but puffing ‘weed’ is safer than drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or adding salt to your steak. It is not addictive, doesn’t ‘gateway’ to other drugs, and smoking doesn’t cause cancer – in fact, may protect against it.

 2.  Wasting resources.  I thought this would appeal to fiscal conservatives, but alas!  Enforcement is costly, so is imprisonment and so are the courts.  People behind bars aren’t contributing to the economy, they are draining it.

3.  Protecting Children. Despite prohibition, more Canadian children have tried ‘grass’ than anywhere else in the west, including decriminalized Spain.

4.  Eroding societal values.  If the law is an ass, people will ignore it and hate the cops.  Legalization would kill black-markets and gangsters faster than a speeding bullet.  And aren’t prisons just training academies for inmates wanting to become better criminals?

 5.  Provincial budgets.  The LCBO gives1.2 billion dollars a year to the provincial government, in addition to the 13% HST and 10% licensing fee.  Why wouldn’t we want to regulate the production and sales of recreational cannabis and use the revenues to pay for public services?

 ‘The Black Candle’ was wrong, but it is never too late to do the right thing.  Back in the early 1970‘s The Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (LeDain Report) called for de-criminalization of cannabis.  In 2002 a Senate committee reported that “… drug legislation was largely based on a moral panic, racist sentiment…” and also called for legalization.  Chretien and Martin started drifting towards de-criminalization but then Stephen Harper, another transplanted Albertan, like Ms. Canuck, came along to reverse progress.  Drug enforcement is back big time.  Today growing six hemp plants will get you an automatic 6 months in the big-house.

 Richard Nixon’s war on drugs in the US was an absolute failure.  Jails are half-filled with drug inmates, drug crime is at an all-time high and drug use in America has never been higher.  In light of this, many states have taken action to start decriminalizing drugs.  Washington and Colorado, are legalizing, developing infrastructure and rules for cultivation and marketing.  The US feds, like their Canadian counter parts, have ultimate jurisdiction, but they’re not interfering.  Is that because their last three presidents were self-proclaimed potheads?

 Stephen Harper claims to never have smoked ‘pot’.  So his head should be clear – right?  Not at all.  Last year, addressing the Summit of the Americas, he admitted “…that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do.”  Still ignorance hasn’t deterred him from going back to what doesn’t work – aggressive criminalization. 

 Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, drug-related arrests have mushroomed by 41% and over 400,000 people have been arrested.  And, Harper can’t even articulate why.  In a 2010 YouTube clip the PM miserably failed to make a single coherent point in defense of his neo-con drug policy – just ended up mumbling something about drug cartels. 

 Now, if Harper is concerned about drug cartels he needs to visit Mexico.  That country used to have one of the toughest policies on drugs anywhere, which ultimately led to its deadly drug wars.   The wars became so vicious that the Mexican government has now decriminalized small quantities of all major narcotics. 

 Of course, Mr. Harper should have gone to learn the Mexican experience before he saddled us with his ill-advised, retro drug laws.  And why not take along his conservative ally, Rob Ford?  Toronto’s controversial mayor might be interested to know that smoking crack-cocaine is now legal in Mexico. 

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

The views of the author are his alone

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7 comments to Should marijuana be made legal? One man’s opinion.

  • James Smith

    Re: Mr (Ms?) Navigator’s comments-

    Mr Rivers’ points out that during the Martin era, moves were made to start the decriminalization of cannabis, & our MP at the time, Ms Torsney was part of this process. So you are incorrect in your statement:

    “no Liberal Party government since 1945… has ever moved in Parliament to decriminalize personal marijuana use.”

    The position of the present government is not to treat drug use as a human health and addiction issue, but rather aims to punish. Punish the user, the seller, the community and the taxpayer. Like a good story the present Federal Government has never let facts get in the way of a decision that can be made by fiat, fear or failed dogma.

    The Gazette has covered many drug busts in the past few months. Could the money spent on theses busts have been better spent on other issue in our community? I think this is the main issue the author has brought up in a respectful and balanced way.

    My only criticism of Mr Rivers article is he didn’t quote former right wing Presidential hopeful Pat Robertson who wants to end the War On Drugs. Although, given Mr Roberson is also quoted as saying “I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband.” OK, perhaps leaving Mr Roberson’s views out of the debate are likely best.

  • Navigator

    Much of your “political anger” seems to be directed to Stephen Harper and his government, as if they are the only roadblocks to sanity regarding marijuana. A more balanced article might have pointed out that the Le Dain Commission that you referenced was set up by Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals and they ignored the report. In fact, no Liberal Party government since 1945, and there have been a lot of them, has ever moved in Parliament to decriminalize personal marijuana use.

    • HJ

      … just wondering, did any party move to decriminalize marijuana use in Parliament?

      At what point does ‘omission’ become a lie?

      Let me try to point out the error.

      Fact, only federal party that openly supports legalization is the Liberal Party of Canada.

      … how does this compare to your misleading claim?

    • Hogwash !
      I spent 20 years and presented it or worked in three partys

      The greens came out for it Oct 11 2007
      jack layton promised to on my resolution in 2006 but turned into a coward

      The liberals are cowards too and I had to tape justin remembering his own use and used that leverage-able possible you tube video to get him to say he would legalize

  • James Smith

    This landmark, and much forgotten PSA from the Regans should be closely watched by all who are interested in the subject:

  • margaret stewart

    found article very informative paricularly backgorund on the black candle