Tag Archives: marijuana

When all reason goes to pot


Every so often, we Canadians elect governments that love to sweat the small stuff – especially when it’s wrapped in the big stuff

We, for example, appoint people to protect our environment only to recognize later that their version of preservation conforms to an arcane section of the legal code that says something like, “Earth is good; complete harvesting of the top soil, water table and everything in between is gooder.”

You know, it’s the small stuff, the fine print, that counts.

What’s presently “gooder” to the federal government involves a minor tweak in its official policy towards marijuana. Now, according to Justice Minster Peter MacKay, it may be okay to smoke up as long as you have the bucks to pay the. . .well, piper.

“Criminal Code offences would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would give police the ability, much like the treatment of open liquor, that would allow the police to ticket those type of offences,” he told Ottawa reporters the other day. “We have not arrived on the exact mechanism in which that could be done. . .We’re examining it. It’s not decriminalization. It’s not legalization.”

In fact, it’s not anything, really, except another attempt to avoid isolating certain individuals at the margin of a certain political base (people who still think, somehow, that the so-called “War on Drugs” remains a worthy, socially redeeming exercise) with an ideological salve paid for by the rest of us.

The actual experts on this subject generally demur to the proposition that the billions of dollars governments in Canada and the United States have spent fighting the so-called drug war over the past 30-or-more years has been a large-scale success.

According to the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy last year, its “researchers reviewed two decades of global drug surveillance data, finding that the supply of major illegal drugs has increased, as measured through a decline in the price, while there has been a corresponding general increase in the purity of illegal drugs.”

This prompted the Centre’s Scientific Chair Dr. Evan Wood (a co-author of the study) to declare: “These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the war on drugs has failed. We should look to implement policies that place community health and safety at the forefront of our efforts, and consider drug use a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. With the recognition that efforts to reduce drug supply are unlikely to be successful, there is a clear need to scale up addiction treatment and other strategies that can effectively reduce drug-related harm.”

Indeed, no less notable a figure than Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil and Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, concurred when he stated: “In response to a study like this, policymakers often say ‘drugs are harmful so they must be kept illegal’. What they fail to consider is, as this and other research suggests, that drugs are more harmful – to society, individuals, and the taxpayer – precisely because they are illegal. Some European countries have taken steps to decriminalize various drugs, and these types of policies should be explored in Latin and North America as well.”

Of course, marijuana is nowhere near comparable to the hard drugs that have preoccupied sound-bite-driven politicians for years. And, in this context, some Liberals may be tempted to consider the Government of Canada’s apparent softening on pot possession and use as a step in the right direction. After all, a ticket and a fine is better than jail time. This misses the point.

As long as non-medical marijuana remains technically illegal, public policy will remain firmly fixed to enforcement models that cost money and, plainly, don’t work. Besides, the simple act of holding a certain quantity of grass is not, in any reasonable person’s judgement, morally equivalent to speeding or driving around with open bottles of alcohol.

This government should emulate other North American jurisdictions, where legislators have stopped sweating the small stuff and started embracing the big picture of a new, legal, regulated, and tax-revenue-generating recreational industry.

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Pot’s “cool” factor is fading fast


Never to be outdone – especially not by a Liberal usurper to the parliamentary throne – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (how is that guy even alive?) now professes to have smoked pot. Whereas Justin Trudeau confirms that he has sucked back on a spliff maybe six times in his life (yeah, right), Hog Town’s burgemeister giggles, “Oh yeah, I won’t deny . . .I smoked a lot of it.”

Given his performance in office, that particular admission is not likely to cheer those who insist that marijuana does not impair one’s judgement. Still, he does appear to be in good company.

Ever since Mr. Trudeau’s calculated announcement this month, elected officials from all points on the political spectrum have been fairly tripping over themselves to cash in on this newest “cool” factor in Canadian politics.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says smoking pot is among the “personal decisions that people make. I’m not going to weight in on a decision of another politician or individual.” As for her own “personal decisions,” she adds, “I have smoked marijuana, but not for the last 35 years. . .and certainly not since my children were born. It has never been a big part of my life.”

Liberal MP Wayne Easter says, “Yes I tried it once about probably 40, 45 years ago now and once what enough for me.”

His colleague Sean Casey explains, “I did as a teenager, I tried it couple of times. I didn’t like it, I was never a smoker and I hacked and coughed so much it didn’t do anything for me, quite frankly.”

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay sounds almost ashamed when he admits “I have never smoked marijuana. . .Well I guess down in Magel it was hard to find. I didn’t know much about it back then.”

It’s the same species of answer that Nova Scotia Liberal Leader, Stephen McNeil, gives when he says he, too, is a virgin to weed: “It probably has something to do with a mother who was a sheriff and five brothers who are law enforcement officers.”

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was actually out front on this issue back in 2011 when he volunteered, “I was a normal kid, I had a normal upbringing, a normal life in university. I experimented from time to time with marijuana. In other words, it was nothing to write home about in the “grand scheme of things.”

At around that time, U.S. President Barack Obama cracked up the Washington press corps when, in response to a question about whether he ever inhaled, he declared: “Frequently. . .That was the point.”

As a Wikipedia entry points out, “Prior to prohibition, U.S. politicians known for growing cannabis include some of the nation’s Founding Fathers and Presidents.” There’s Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James Madison. There’s also Franklin Pierce, Zachary Taylor and George Washington.

More recently, since pot’s interdiction, a virtual bevy of prominent baby boomers have admitted to using the stuff, including Bill Clinton, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

All of which raises the question: How cool can something be if everyone is (or was) doing it?

I was roundly considered a nerd in high school in large part because I refused to  toke up. I wish I could say this was one of my principled stands. The truth is I didn’t like the smell, though I didn’t (still don’t) begrudge anyone else’s decision to partake.

The legal alcohol I consume actually makes me more of an outlier (if not an especially cool one) than the marijuana some of my friends and associates smoke. I’m edgy and dangerous, flirting with disaster. In contrast, they’re all too bloody normal, even, dare I say, conformist.

Rob Ford – who has been lambasted in the press for his alleged appearance in a video with drug dealers and his infamous declaration, “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine” – wonders why all these politicians “are all coming out” regarding their use of marijuana. It is, he seems to suggest, no big deal.

For once, he’s dead right.

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The high times of Justin Trudeau

Death in Dhaka...600 and counting

Politically, at least, it appears federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau can smoke pot and chew gum at the same time.

His admission last week that he partook in a celebratory exchange of herb at a party with friends three years ago generated not much more than polite applause among most Canadians, who care more about their mounting household debt than the recreational indiscretions of their elected officials.

The CBC’s “Community Blog” members seemed only too willing to forgive.

“So he’s human! It makes him even more likeable,” one posted.

Declared another: “And he’s honest. It raises him in my esteem, and I’m not even a Liberal.”

Added another: “I will vote for Trudeau on this alone. . .don’t decriminalize it, legalize, regulate and tax it. And I don’t even smoke weed. It makes sense.”

Indeed, one observed, “Name me one politician who hasn’t? Seriously, does this have to be an issue? I think issues such as honesty are a lot more important.”

In contrast (naturally) the federal Conservatives reacted less sanguinely to Mr. Trudeau’s confession. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the wayward fellow’s actions “speak for themselves”. Justice Minister Peter MacKay insisted the Grit honcho exhibited a “a profound lack of judgment. . .By flouting the laws of Canada while holding elected office, he shows he is a poor example for all Canadians, particularly young ones. Justin Trudeau is simply not the kind of leader our country needs.”

But if they were trying to have a field day at Mr. Trudeau’s expense, they soon recognized that few in the media or, indeed, the public at large were willing to play that particular game. In fact, this is becoming a pattern – as heartening to Liberal brand masters as it is worrying to their opposite numbers in the Tory encampment.

Justin Trudeau is gaining momentum as fast as Stephen Harper is losing it. Oddly, parliamentary prorogation helps the former far more than it does the latter. Although the prime minister may enjoy a short break from Question Period, his Grit rival is free to pontificate at length on social and economic justice issues about which, increasingly, Canadians care. What’s more, in sending his messages, Mr. Trudeau is using major and social media to marvelous effect.

Last week, he came out first and forcefully on the subject of Quebec’s decision to curtail expressions of religious affiliation among public servants in that province.  “I have enormous concerns about the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he told reporters following a consultation with Premier Pauline Marois. “I don’t think it’s who we are and I don’t think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit.”

Online reaction to his remarks was swift and broadly supportive, if not uniformly for their contents then unanimously for their candor.

“Slowly but very deliberately Mr. Trudeau is showing Canadians that he is a different kind of of political animal,” one reader posted to the Globe and Mail’s website. “He is offering a potentially refreshing choice and is starting to prove that he is not afraid to run the risk of taking positions that may not appeal to everyone.”

Another pointedly observed, “I think it’s absolutely hilarious that after taxpayers have spent a lot of money paying for Mr. Harper’s strategically planned Arctic dog-and-pony show, he’s been bumped off the stage by Mr. Trudeau. Substance (no pun intended) prevails over photo-ops.”

This week, Mr. Trudeau launched another salvo into the hull of the Conservative dreadnaught by stating that the much-vaunted economic recovery, for which the Harper government adores taking credit, is unequal and, therefore, unfair to many middle-class Canadians. Speaking for himself (but clearly with his leader’s sanction, Liberal finance critic Scott Brison told The Globe’s Jane Taber, “The economic recovery has left behind a lot of middle-class Canadian families. Young Canadians and their middle-class families are facing real challenges, near-record levels of personal debt, some of the worst job numbers in decades.”

About which one commentator, representatively, posted, “Looks like we have a young leader who is getting better and better as he goes along. I’ll take that over Harper and his Band of Bucketheads any day.”

All of which suggests that Mr. Trudeau is riding high and in more ways than one.

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Common sense up in smoke?


Those who argue that marijuana should be legalized, though tightly regulated, because the prohibitions against its use don’t work are only half-right. It all depends on one’s definition of the word, “work”.

If we acknowledge that the law contorts the evidence that cannabis is safer than either tobacco or alcohol, that it succeeds in making criminals out of otherwise peaceable citizens, that it reinforces crusty stereotypes about shiftless stoners, and that it costs Canada’s judicial system millions of dollars a year that could be spent in more productive ways, then we must also acknowledge that the law works marvelously well to utterly ill effect.

Just ask any cop.

This week, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) passed a resolution that would give officers the discretion to levy fines for simple holding (pending, of course, federal approval).

The text of the ruling reads, in part, “The CACP believes it is necessary to expand the range of enforcement options available to law enforcement personnel in order to more effectively and efficiently address the unlawful possession of cannabis. The current process of sending all possession of cannabis cases pursuant to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to criminal court is placing a significant burden on the entire Justice System from an economic and resource utilization perspective.”

According to CACP President Chief Constable Jim Chu in the accompanying news release, “It must be recognized. . .that under the current legislation the only enforcement option for police, when confronted with possession of cannabis, is either to turn a blind eye or lay charges. The latter ensues a lengthy and difficult process which, if proven guilty, results in a criminal conviction and criminal record.”

The Association stops short of calling for decriminalization. (In fact, it goes out of its way to support the legal status quo). Nevertheless, its declaration reflects what is increasingly becoming mainstream opinion about the drug in law enforcement, medical and even political arenas.

“As four former attorneys-general of British Columbia, we were the province’s chief prosecutors and held responsibility for overseeing the criminal justice system,” Ujjal Dosanjh, Colin Gabelmann, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant wrote in a commentary for The Globe and Mail earlier this year. “We know the burden imposed on B.C.’s policing and justice system by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition and the role that prohibition itself plays in driving organized crime.”

Indeed, they added, “Under marijuana prohibition, violent criminals are provided a protected market that enables them to target our youth and grow rich while vast resources are directed to ineffective law enforcement tactics. Meanwhile, Canada’s criminal justice system is overextended and in desperate need of repair.”

The solution, they insisted, is to regulate the “cannabis market”, which could, they claim, “provide government with billions of dollars in tax and licensing revenues over the next five years. These dollars are in addition to the enormous cost savings that could accrue from ending the futile cat and mouse game between marijuana users and the police.”

None of which would matter one iota if marijuana were the resident force of social evil that conservative ideologues claim. But the preponderance of evidence is, at best, inconclusive. Several recent studies have suggested correlations between mental illness in young people and cannabis use. Others conclude that the more likely causes of psychological disease are genetic and socio-economic, and that it is virtually impossible to select these factors out of the equation.

As long as the law prohibits marijuana use, we, as responsible citizens, are obliged to obey. Certainly, legal channels should never, under any circumstances, facilitate the drug’s availability to minors.

But in a responsive democracy, laws that confound common sense and good governance must be questioned. Especially when they work exceedingly well to achieve everything except that for which they are intended.

It’s not for nothing, perhaps, that health authorities in both Canada and the United States – where weed is also broadly illegal – report that pot smoking is up by several orders of magnitude since the turn of the decade.

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