Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2006
Source: Advertiser (CN NF)
Copyright: 2006 Advertiser
Author: Arthur Black


When I was in my late teens I lived for a time in a relatively seamy
section of Montreal. My landlord, a wannabe jazz saxophonist, used to
get together with an overgrown flower child who answered to the name
Posey. They would spend most afternoons sitting on a balcony
overlooking Rue Guy, puffing on doobies the size of panatelas as they
giggled at the world going by.

They were the only two people I knew in the world who smoked

Today, nearly half a century, legions of narc squads, and several
hundred million anti-drug dollars later, pot is being sold by kids, to
kids in schoolyards from Pangnirtung to P.E.I...  I smell its sweet,
sharp scent pretty much every time I walk past the park in the middle
of town. So much for the War on Drugs.

We've always been a little nutsoid about this backyard weed.  The
Americans can largely blame J. Edgar Hoover, the cross-dressing
paranoiac who ran the FBI with an iron fist for most of the 20th
century.  He's the guy who made sure Americans were taught that
marijuana was as evil as heroin, serial axe murderers and devil worship.

We Canucks can thank Emily Murphy.

Ms. Murphy was a pioneer of women's rights in Canada.  She became the
first woman police magistrate in the British Empire back in 1916.  She
was instrumental in seeing that women were regarded as people, under
Canadian law.

Then there was her other side.

She practiced journalism and had a regular column in Macleans magazine
which she wrote under the pen name Janey Canuck.  She used her column
as a bully pulpit to pitch her personal war against drugs --
specifically marijuana -- and more specifically against the people who
used it.

"Chinese, Assyrians, Negroes and Greeks" she assured her readers,
"were responsible for the presence of marijuana" (she spelled it
marahuana) "in Canada."  She crusaded against letting such foreigners
into the country.  For those that were already here, she argued for
their compulsory sterilization, indeed, for all "lesser humans" who
she complained were polluting the gene pool.

She worried, in print, that the white race was faltering, while the
more prolific "black and yellow races may yet obtain the ascendancy"
and thus threatened to "wrest the leadership of the world from the

When it came to the evils of pot, she really let her hair down.  In
her Macleans column she wrote:  "Persons using this narcotic, smoke
the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them
completely insane. Addicts to this drug, while under its influence,
are immune to pain, and could be severely injured without having any
realization of their condition.They become raving maniacs and are
liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons,
using the most savage methods without any sense of moral

The powers that be bought into Murphy's loopy argument. The laws of
the country were revamped so that marijuana joined the ranks of
heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

A weed that grows freely in ditches and barnyards became a criminal
substance, possession of which could put you in jail.

And it stuck.  In 1961, nearly 30 years after her death, any Canadian
found with even a few grams of marijuana in pocket or purse could be
sentenced to seven years in the slammer.  Who knows how many thousands
of Canadians have been arrested, charged, and in many cases thrown
into jail as a direct result of Emily Murphy's delusional rantings?

Interestingly, marijuana is making a comeback.  Not so much as a
recreational drug (that's a constant) but as legitimate medicine.
Many chronic pain sufferers swear cannabis is the only remedy that
brings them relief.  And a recent study published in the science
journal Molecular Pharmaceutics claims that smoking marijuana may help
stop the onset of Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is, of course, a disease characterized by memory loss,
poor decision-making and loss of language skills.

Which is pretty much what happens to you when you smoke a

Emily Murphy wouldn't appreciate the irony, but my old Montreal
landlord would get a giggle out of it. 
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