Attention Canadians! It’s time to face the puzzling issue of decriminalizing marijuana. Our current laws are a burden on the justice system, jails and society, leaving us to pay yet another bill for the police, judges, lawyers, prisons and guards. In numerous ways, we’ve had smoke blown in our face.
Every grow-op bust reported is a mere snowflake on the tip of an iceberg when viewed on the national scale. The anti-drug force would go broke taking down all the grow-ops. From the other side of the legal fence, a busted grow op is like removing the competition and opening more ground for expansion. It provides more market power for the survivor.
Americans have fought the War on Drugs since Ronald Reagan laid down the law back in the Eighties. As a result, between 1980 and 2002, more prisons were built and the number of prisoners tripled, the majority for drug violations. Canada has over 600,000 citizens with criminal records for marijuana possession. Think of how many prison cells that would fill.
When we label cannabis a narcotic, we equate it with heroin, cocaine and crack; this is like listing both Dickens and Penthouse under the same category of literature. Cannabis is not physically addictive nor is it known to incite riots, let alone a squabble. When smoking a joint causes less damage than downing a bottle of beer, how did marijuana become so reviled?
Marijuana has never killed anyone. All illegal drugs kill around 800 people a year. Meanwhile, terminal diseases from the legally sanctioned substances, such as tobacco (killing 45,000 people a year) and alcohol (12,000), are acceptable. The health system kills over 106,000 people each year through adverse drug reactions. Even aspirin causes over 10,000 hospital admission in Canada each year. Still, pot is the devil.
Cannabis actually provides medical benefits amongst its many other uses. In Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser writes how “Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, provides evidence that smoking cannabis can relieve the nausea associated with chemotherapy, prevent blindness induced by glaucoma, serve as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients, act as an anti-epileptic, ward off asthma attacks and migraine headaches, alleviate chronic pain, and reduce the muscle spasticity that accompanies multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and paraplegia.” Not bad for a villain.
Hemp has health benefits when eaten as a seed, it creates fabric stronger than denim, provides fiber for paper and can be distilled into fuel. It grows quick, plentiful and easily(it is a weed), making it a very economically feasible crop. How many forests could be saved, using a commercial crop that costs less and is more sustainable than the monoculture fibres we depend on?
The economic offshoots from hemp production could replace our use of pulp lumber without rebuilding factories. Hemp fiber allows local production of textiles and clothing. And grow ops could be utilized to build the economy rather than drain it.
Cannabis is correlated with narcotics and weapons, the more lethal corrupters, because it is traded for those greater evils in an underground barter system. It is a pawn in the drug war, cultivating it here and shipping it to the States. The Canada-US border surveillance unnecessarily focuses on marijuana rather than the more lethal dangers. If this ‘currency’ were legally available, bought and tendered over the counter like cigarettes, the criminal world would be less able to afford to transfer narcotics into the country. It would be like trading aspirin for cocaine.
Legalizing marijuana benefits society two-fold: First, it would incapacitate the underground economy that depends on its sale. Second, the collected taxes from the legal crop could fund the battle against narcotics; better yet, add funding to mental health services and take the real victims out of the drug trade. By turning our back on this cash crop, we are wasting tax dollars on a war that builds up the enemy rather than near any end.
Societies who have legalized marijuana do not fall into disrepair, like doomsayers say. These citizens grow up respecting its use, in a similar way that alcohol has been accepted since the Prohibition ended; not everybody drinks alcohol, but it’s available.
If we are concerned about our safety, focus on the people affected by the problem rather than the ones that are selling on the corner. The self-medication prevalent in street life is not a nuisance, but an indication of a damaged community. We can fix a community problem easier than a global one.
It is time to blow away the smoke and demand a justice system that enhances society and reduces crime. Legalize marijuana so that authorities can start cracking down on substances that really are killing us: narcotics.
 Mate, Gabor, MD,In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (Toronto, Knopf Canada, 2008) 275
Mulgrew, Ian, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, Canada) 190
 Mulgrew, Ian, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, Canada) 191
 Schlosser, Erik, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (New York, Mariner, 2004) 16