Stirring the legalized pot

Our panelists examine the possible choices Canada faces after Colorado and Washington states legalized recreational marijuana earlier this month

Image by: Alex Choi

Colton Carrick, ArtSci ’16

With the recent legalization of marijuana in the US, many Canadians were left in awe at the decision made by our traditionally more conservative neighbour. For decades we Canadians have considered ourselves substantially more progressive on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, healthcare and until now — drug use. However with America’s decision, we are now looking to our own drug laws and questioning their relevance and effectiveness in our modern age. Is the legalization of marijuana the right move for the Canadian government? Absolutely not.

According to many groups the legalization of marijuana isn’t just a proper course of action, but inevitable. Many reference the vast extent of marijuana use in Canada as justification for its legalization.

According to the United Nations, in 2007 Canada led the industrialized world in its proportion of the population that used marijuana. As the debate over marijuana gains notoriety, pleas for legislation are becoming more and more common. The Liberal Party of Canada has recently become an official advocate for its legalization and advocates are now looking to the government for legislation.

However, the obligation of any respectable government is to improve and maintain a civil and just society. The greatest tool a government has to fulfill this obligation is the ability to make positive change within society through legislation. Essentially, the purpose of legislation is to improve society, not indulge it. To legalize marijuana is to pervert the constructive and beneficial purpose of legislation.

People don’t want to legalize marijuana because they see it as an integral component of a human life lived with dignity or a necessity in the maintenance of the delicate fabric of society.

People want to legalize marijuana because they want to get high. Marijuana use isn’t a fundamental freedom of the individual; it’s a means by which the individual can obtain physical pleasure.

If the Government of Canada legalizes marijuana a dangerous precedent will be set. The day principle bows down to passion is the day democracy fails.

Now I’m sure that those who advocate for recreational marijuana use will at some point mention freedom. They will either mention the oppressive laws that currently exist with regard to marijuana use or touch on their right to put into their bodies whatever substance they please. Though I admire their passion for freedom it seems that they often forget freedom’s inseparable companion: responsibility. The civil rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” Freedom isn’t meant to allow the citizen to do what they want, it’s meant to allow the citizen to do what they ought.

The use of marijuana impedes a citizen’s ability to fulfill his or her full potential as a citizen. The acute symptoms of marijuana use include impaired coordination, balance, attention, judgment and short-term memory. Persistent symptoms include sleep, memory and learning impairment; and long-term use can lead to addiction, anxiety, depression and amotivational syndrome

I am not naïve to the realities of marijuana use. I myself know that many people frequently use the drug and experience little or no negative side effects. Though this may be the reality for the majority of marijuana users, the fact of the matter is that it can have devastating effects on a small group of individuals — a small group of individuals can impact society in a major way.

One need only look at the millions of dollars spent on alcohol rehabilitation, the countless lives lost because of drunk driving, the hundreds of families torn apart because of alcoholism, and thousands of other alcohol related deaths to see that a mild recreational drugs can have lasting and horrible effects on a community.

The difference between alcohol and marijuana is that marijuana has yet to become a part of mainstream culture. It isn’t too late to stop marijuana in its tracks. Government isn’t about giving you what you want. It’s about giving you what you need.

Colton Carrick is a member of the Queen’s University Conservative Association.

Michelle Gordon, ArtSci ’13

On Nov. 6, the same day that voters in the American states of Washington and Colorado approved the recreational use of marijuana, the Harper government’s Safe Streets and Communities Act came into force, establishing mandatory minimum penalties for the possession and production of pot.

The government has said that pot must remain illegal because of its harmful effects on users and on society, especially young people. As for the effect on users, pot is generally no more harmful, if consumed in moderation, than those legal but controlled substances, alcohol and tobacco. As for harmful societal effects, the current federal policy is itself causing negative consequences.

Millions of Canadians already consume pot, yet Canada is losing an estimated $1 billion in annual tax revenue that legalized sales of pot would generate. We are, meanwhile, spending an estimated $400 million trying to enforce a failed drug strategy. We are occupying the police and the courts with a victimless crime when their time could be devoted to more serious crimes. And, in the process, we are giving young people criminal records.

The Liberal Party of Canada favours a more sensible approach. At the party’s biennial convention last January, delegates approved a resolution calling for the legalization of pot. This is a policy based on evidence and realism rather than ideology and wishful thinking. Much of the negative impact which the current criminalization of marijuana has on society would be eliminated if Ottawa were to remove cannabis from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The regulation, sale and taxation of cannabis would then be mostly under the provinces’ jurisdiction, just as tobacco and alcohol are. The Liberal policy would give amnesty to all Canadians who have been convicted of simple and minimal marijuana possession, and would expunge their criminal records.

This isn’t a radical new policy. The Liberal Party isn’t trying to win votes away from the Canadian Marijuana Party whose sole reason for existence is to legalize Marijuana. It reflects the thrust of two landmark Canadian studies. The Le Dain Commission in 1972 urged repeal of the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use. The Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in 2002 proposed that cannabis possession be legal for anyone over 16 years of age.

The Harper Government insists that marijuana must not be legalized because of the incentive this would provide for gang activity and violent crime. However, it’s the status quo — the criminal prohibition of marijuana — that endangers Canadians by promoting gang-related crime and weapons smuggling. A Liberal government, while legalizing marijuana, would ensure the regulation and taxation of its production, distribution and use. A Liberal government would also maintain strict penalties for illicit trafficking and illegal importation and export of pot.

Last October, a B.C. organization called Stop the Violence, which includes former judges, police chiefs and health experts, launched a high-profile campaign to “end the cannabis cash cow of organized crime.”

The B.C. coalition reported that marijuana prohibition fuels gang warfare and that school children now have easier access to pot than to alcohol or cigarettes, due to the reach of organized crime. Thus, a misguided policy ostensibly to protect young people from pot, turns them into the clients of drug dealers and often gives them criminal records.

The B.C. coalition, like the Liberal Party, advocates the regulated sale of marijuana similar to that of cigarettes, so that it can be controlled and taxed and its use eventually reduced.

Of course, legalization of marijuana wouldn’t mean legalization of other narcotics such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy. Those drugs are far more addictive and dangerous. But even for marijuana, a Liberal government would underwrite education programs to raise awareness of its health risks. Just as the lawful sale of tobacco hasn’t thwarted the success of public health efforts to lessen its use, neither would the legalization of marijuana be at odds with efforts to curb its excessive consumption.

Michelle Gordon is vice-present provincial with the Queen’s University Liberal Association.

Jesse Waslowski, ArtSci ’13

Illegal drugs and controlled substances may be bad for you, but they should be legal to use, sell or produce. Why does any single entity have the right to control how an individual does harm to themselves?

A practical discussion is useful to show the effects of drug legalization. It’s interesting to note that people haven’t stopped doing drugs because they are illegal. In 2010-11 for example, Canada admitted over 225,000 people to sentenced custody, remand and other temporary detention. Six per cent of those admitted to sentenced custody were admitted on drug offences.

Compare this with Portugal. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs since 2001, and “illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped,” according to the think-tank CATO. This is the kind of good that can occur when drug users aren’t treated as criminals.

This really begs the question, why is the government wasting money throwing users in jail for victimless crimes? In 2010, CATO estimated in the US, “that legalizing drugs would reduce government expenditures by $41.3 billion annually.” Normally, the government doesn’t arrest an alcoholic unless they’re doing something else illegal. If alcoholics are harming themselves or their social group, they’re allowed to seek or be offered help. This includes medical help or communal help, with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

When drugs are illegal, the spontaneous growth of community aid is stunted. If alcohol were illegal, what alcoholic would risk getting caught by police so that they could go to an AA meeting? Few if any would take that risk, and the same is true for the user of any drug.

A proponent of decriminalization but not legalization might agree that drug users or addicts shouldn’t be thrown in jail, but this ignores the problem of illegal provision. The provision and production of drugs should also be legalized so that peaceful businesses can outcompete the violent gangs which currently sell and smuggle drugs. The world doesn’t need another Mexico-like “military-led offensive” against drug cartels, under President Felipe Calderon’s terms where 42,000 people have died between 2006 and 2011.

Just as the prohibition on alcohol once led to the creation of violent gangs, the prohibition on marijuana and other controlled substances is doing the same thing today.

Currently, illegal organizations find it profitable to buy guns and use these guns to protect their goods (drugs) from police and rival gangs.

The purchase of violent weaponry would become unnecessary and therefore unprofitable, if drugs were legalized, because the legal property (drugs) would be subject to the same protection by police as all other legal property. Therefore, the legalization of drug production and provision would reduce violent crime. I prefer price wars in the market over drug wars in the street.

Finally, those that are the most vulnerable economically have the most reason to risk joining a gang or selling illegal substances, since this risk is compensated monetarily. These people, because of their illegal activities, are at greater risk for not advancing economically if they receive a criminal record.

Prohibition on drugs therefore perpetuates poverty and aggravates systems of discrimination that interact with poverty.

Controlled substances should be legalized because there is no right to stop someone from doing to themselves what they choose. Legalization improves the health of users and reduces violence, whereas prohibition perpetuates poverty and discrimination.

Jesse Waslowski is a member of Queen’s Students for Liberty.


Marijuana, Panel, Pot

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