Tracknum: 13897.20020914153531.98601.qmail
Pubdate: Fri, 13 Sep 2002
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 1994 to 2002, Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: G.D. Maxwell
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Have You Heard? The War Is Over!

The Canadian Senate, that moribund public patronage trough for aging 
political bagpersons and defeated politicians, has sung its own song of 
freedom, its own redemption song - Don't Bogart that Joint My Friend, Pass 
it Over to Me.

Who'da thunk. The Senate, our Senate, obviously hiding balls the size of 
cantaloupes all these years, comes out puffing, calling for the 
legalization of cannabis. Not some namby-pamby, don't-ask-don't-tell, 
half-measure, turn a blind eye decriminalization, but outright, trot down 
to 7-11 for a pack of smokes legalization! Breathtaking.

In 1972, tired of protesting the Vietnam War, looking for something 
positive to tackle, a couple of friends and I, convinced our own redemption 
was near, formed a chapter of NORML - the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws - at the university we were attending. It was a 
naive, stupid gesture. We not only had no hope in hell of reforming the 
laws, we became lightning rods for every redneck cracker carrying a badge 
and gun. We might as well have walked around with sandwich boards reading 
Bust Me Pig. Instead of reforming marijuana laws, we pretty much had to 
give up smoking the stuff because we were always being harassed.

Worst of all, we obviously didn't understand how good we had it. At the 
University of New Mexico, pot was practically de facto legal. You could 
puff with impunity on campus, get high at the student union theatre and 
score pretty much anything you want at Alice's Restaurant. The Good Humor 
ice cream hippie who pedalled a three-wheel goodies bike around campus 
sold, along with frozen confections, reasonably good Mexican pot in various 
quantities, hash, assorted psychedelic pharmaceuticals and, best of all, he 
took food stamps as payment and made change in cold, hard coin of the 
realm. Life was good.

Though not so good as I witnessed in Amsterdam half a decade later. On a 
side trip north during a three month journey that consisted almost 
exclusively of getting chased off various Alps by bad weather and 
developing a lifelong addiction to Italian food, I had only two burning 
desires - stare at original Van Gogh canvases up close and smoke myself 
silly. After better than two months of abstinence, the order of these 
desires may not have been as stated.

Peter, the bartender at the Hotel Arrive, a seedy dive in an even seedier 
part of town where I'd been directed by some climbers I'd met trying to 
outrun lightning on Eiger, placed an ice cold Heineken and a ball of sticky 
black hash on the bar in front of me before I'd asked for either. Good 
bartenders are like that, you know. It was a year into the government's 
experiment with liberalized drug laws and Peter wasn't wasting time 
plumbing the limits of the new regime.

To further my touristic experience and quench my desires, he drew me a 
crude map, directing me to a canal some miles distant, and since barges 
tethered along Amsterdam's canals didn't have house numbers, told me to 
look for the "big mouth." "Ya can't miss it, mahn," he said in a mock 
Rastaman accent.

He was right. Tied to the eastern side of a canal in an otherwise prim 
neighbourhood was a barge with a false facade on its starboard side. It 
looked like an outsized pair of Rolling Stone logo lips but with teeth 
instead of a lasciviously protruding tongue. The entryway was the 
left-middle tooth.

When my eyes had adjusted to the gloom inside the cabin I descended six 
stairs and stood in front of what appeared to be a bank teller's cage. Inch 
thick bullet-proof glass separated me from the teller, your standard issue 
biker"bouncer"don't-mess-with-me tough guy. A hand printed "menu" 
scotch-taped to the glass listed the cannabis du jour, half a dozen choices 
all at market prices in a reasonably priced market.

I made my choice, slipped what I was sure was a sufficient amount of 
unfamiliar currency through the opening at the bottom of the glass and 
waited while the pot teller disappeared through a door behind his chair. 
Having watched too many sting movies, I expected a trap door to open and 
flush me into the canal. It didn't. The clerk reappeared, slid a plastic 
bag of pot and my change back under the protective glass and wished me a 
pleasant stay in Amsterdam. I was so dumbfounded I forgot to ask if he sold 

I don't expect to live long enough to ever replicate that experience in 
Canada. I don't imagine for a minute the recommendations of the Senate 
Committee will be adopted. The great thing about being a senator is you 
don't have to stand for re-election and it's going to take some very brave 
MPs to ever actually legalize pot.

And that's a real shame.

The senate report is a lot broader in its scope than just recommending pot 
be legalized. The reporting of it has been trivialized by the media who've 
latched onto that one recommendation and the other one about establishing a 
framework for production, distribution and sale. The whole report is 600 
pages and the summary a brief 55. Judging from what I've seen to date, 
journalists have read maybe 10, reported on maybe two.

The report recommended, among other things:

- --creation of a National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency 
within the Privy Council Office;

- --calling a high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, 
territories, municipalities and associations in 2003, to set goals and 
priorities for action on psychoactive substances over a five-year period;

- --mandate the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse to ensure national 
co-ordination of research and reporting on psychoactive substances;

- --adoption by the Government of Canada of an integrated policy on the risks 
and harmful effects of the whole range of psychoactive substances including 
prescribed medication, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs;

- --amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to create a criminal 
exemption scheme stipulating the conditions for obtaining licences as well 
as for producing and selling cannabis; criminal penalties for illegal 
trafficking and export; and the preservation of criminal penalties for all 
activities falling outside the scope of the exemption scheme;

- --declare an amnesty for any person convicted of possession of cannabis 
under current or past legislation;

- --provide new rules regarding eligibility, production and distribution with 
respect to cannabis for therapeutic purposes;

- --amend the Criminal Code to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 
milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, in the presence of 
other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis.

Key to the senators' report is the simple realization that the war on drugs 
is over - drugs won. Their framework for getting on with our lives deserves