Up in smoke


For those who insist that public attitudes move with only glacial speed, a quick review of some of the hot button issues of the past generation serves to rebut the assertion – none, perhaps, more convincingly than recreational drug use.

This may explain why members of New Brunswick’s medical establishment are urging the provincial government to exercise all due circumspection as it ponders ways to deliver the federal government’s presumed (not yet announced) framework for legalizing marijuana. “There should be a discussion about it,” Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association, told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal earlier this month. “The province shouldn’t be acting unilaterally. We would certainly hope that whatever decision they are making they’re doing so with health consequences in mind.”

Mr. Blanchard’s comments came on the heels of news that the provincial government’s liquor Czar, Brain Harriman, has been spearheading research by liquor boards across Canada to investigate the merits of a new world order for the sale of legal, regulated weed in retail outlets.

“It’s a health concern,” Mr. Blanchard said. “I’m certain that the provincial government is looking at other jurisdictions. . .and seeing there is an opportunity on the sales tax side. But we think there are also some health consequences here that need to be factored in.”

To be fair, he has a point. Some recent, credible research has found that adolescent and teenage pot smoking raises the risk of developing some form of mental illness later in life (which form, I presume, depends on the number of brain cells you manage snuff out in callow youth).

Still, the speed with which the conversation about illicit drugs has evolved in recent years is astonishing.

In the most recent issue of Harper’s Magazine, writer Dan Baum notes in his provocatively titled piece, “Legalize it all: How to win the war on drugs”:

“In 1994, John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results? Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman’s boss, Richard Nixon, who declared the first ‘war on drugs’ and set the country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues. “I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. . .At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of . . .questions that he impatiently waved away. ‘You want to know what this was really all about?’ he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. ‘The Nixon White House. . .had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. . .We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against either (hippies and black people). . .but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

The times. . .they, are, indeed, a changing.

All of which raises a question: If we can so quickly reimagine the universe on the dubiously redeeming subject of drugs, can we also apply this flexibility of mind to the fundamentally pressing issues that have vexed us for generations?

Shall we declare a war on poverty?

Only this time, we won’t rest till we win.

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