Tag Archives: war on drugs

Up in smoke

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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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The prodigal pothead returns

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Stoners say the darnedest things. Take Marc Emery, for example. He’s Canada’s “Prince of Pot”, just released from a four-and-a-half-year long American hoosegow, courtesy of the state of Mississippi.

“Everywhere I go there have been well-wishers, even people who I don’t think agree with marijuana legalization think that maybe it’s a bit rough to have someone go away for five years over seeds,” the activist, who was sent up the river for running a mail-order marijuana seed company, told a reporter for the Toronto Sun last week.

Still, that was mild in comparison to other things he has said. Just ask Margaret Wente, the Globe and Mail’s delightfully irascible current affairs columnist. In one of her commentaries last week, she wrote, “Despite the public adulation, Mr. Emery is among the most obnoxious jerks in Canadian public life,” she wrote. “And I say this as someone who thinks it’s past time to relax the laws on weed.

“He’s a relentless self-promoter who’s compared himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He insists that the persecution of people who smoke pot is the moral equivalent of the persecution of the Jews.

“In his most despicable, he called Irwin Cotler, the former federal justice minister, a ‘Nazi-Jew’ for allowing the United States to extradite him. Mr. Cotler is a Liberal who campaigns passionately against anti-Semitism.”

Well, gee, Peggy, why not try saying what’s on your mind for a change?

Methinks, however, her larger point is that because Mr. Emery is so objectionable  (at least to her), his support for legalizing pot undermines the principle, itself. This is a neat trick of tortured logic that some of us in the screed-making game make from time to time (me included).

Much has changed since Mr. Emery went to prison. Colorado and Washington has legalized marijuana for recreational use. President Barack Obama has openly joked about his yputhful adventures with weed, apparently to no ill effect on his standing in public opinion pools, which, in any case, couldn’t get much worse. And federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is calling to make the stuff legit.

And why not? Actual experts on this subject generally reject 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 have been worthy investments.

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 moved the Centre’s Scientific Chair Dr. Evan Wood (a co-author of the study) to state: “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.”

In fact, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil and Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, agreed 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.”

Already, a sizable chunk of Canadians support decriminalizing pot, if not actually legalizing it.

All of which is to say that Mr. Emery can yak on about anything that fancies him. That’s what a man on a mission (a.k.a. media hound) does, stoned or not. It won’t affect  the ultimate outcome.

On this issue, if with few others, the momentum of the age is with common sense.

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When all reason goes to pot

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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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