Pubdate: Fri, 06 Sep 2002
Source: Halifax Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


There is no doubt that outright legalization of marijuana, as a Senate 
committee advocated on Wednesday, would solve a number of problems.

The bigger question is whether it wouldn't create more problems than it's 
worth. If cannabis went the way of liquor and became government regulated 
and distributed, organized crime would no longer be taking in all the 
profits. That's a good thing.

Legalization would depress the price of a joint, but taxes - aimed both at 
deterring youthful puffers and at generating revenue for government coffers 
- - would drive it back up again. There would still be plenty of opportunity 
to grow cheaper, black market grass. So the organized crime problem would 
not disappear into thin air.

There is also another niche criminal gangs would continue to exploit: 
smuggling. Much of the pot grown in B.C., for example, is destined not for 
domestic consumption (although there's plenty of that) but for the larger 
market in the U.S. If some operations were licensed to grow pot in Canada, 
the domestic market would shrink for illegal growers. The real money would 
be in getting a bigger supply past the 49th parallel. Half of Washington 
already views Canada as a terrorist haven. Just wait till it becomes a pot 
paradise, too.

Legalization backers point out that as a sovereign country, Canada should 
be able to enact any drug law it sees fit. This is true in theory. But 
American drug policy matters in the real world. The border - Canada's 
economic lifeline - is already a mess. The last thing we need is for the 
U.S. to reinforce it with pot patrols.

Legalization of cannabis would certainly reduce the burden on Canadian 
courts. About 25,000 Canadians are charged annually and $5 million a year 
is spent on prosecuting pot-possession cases. But decriminalization, or at 
the very least relaxing the penalties for simple possession, could achieve 
the same results with fewer complications.

Here's one such complication: A fully legal product could conceivably be 
advertised like beer or cigarettes. How would Canadian parents feel about 
pot being pitched in ads? Cannabis may not be a "gateway drug," but it's 
hard to argue chronic use isn't harmful to your health.

The Senate committee is right when it concludes that prohibition doesn't 
work. But it does not necessarily follow that outright legalization will. 
Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager