Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jun 2007
Source: Daily Observer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007, Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Rick Reimer



I'd like to thank Tina Peplinskie and the Observer for the coverage of
my recent trial in Pembroke. I'll let you know as soon as a decision
is reached. This letter is not about those issues, but instead about
marijuana prohibition generally and my advocacy against it.

Many wonder why I choose to fight for the decriminalization (there's a
subtle difference from legalization - an unnecessarily fine point to
debate here) of marijuana. Some people believe that medical marijuana
users like myself are merely "stoners" who have managed to bamboozle
the government for their personal pleasure. Ironically, my heavy
marijuana use creates a tolerance that prevents me from getting high
at all. I haven't been "stoned" on pot in more than a decade and don't
expect that to change anytime soon. This phenomenon is common among
medicinal users who tend to consume large quantities.

While it doesn't get me "high," cannabis helps to alleviate my
Multiple Sclerosis symptoms in many fashions - I won't go into
personal details or ask anyone to accept my word. The reader can
easily do their own research - type "medical marijuana" into an
Internet search engine and get set for weeks of reading.

Consider also that:

Thousands of medical users in Canada alone (with MS, cancer, AIDS,
epilepsy and other afflictions) vouch for marijuana's effectiveness;
Cannabis, in various forms, was safely used as a medicine for
countless generations before the start of prohibition in the 1920s;

The Canadian government has recognized marijuana as a medicine since

My particular medical details don't really matter in this debate since
I advocate for, and hope someday to see, marijuana decriminalization
for recreational as well as medical use. Before I began to experience
MS symptoms, I was already a lifelong regular user of cannabis. Being
a lawyer, I recognized this as an important civil rights issue -
marijuana is simply the currency of the debate. Our laws are
supposedly founded on a variation of the Golden Rule known as the
"harm principle." In a nutshell: If I'm not interfering with your life
then kindly leave me alone! To me, marijuana's present illegality is
of no more significance than abortion's illegality was to Dr. Henry
Morgentaler when he began his struggle against those laws in the
1970s. There come times when legislation must change to reflect
current attitudes. If the law defines as criminal something that more
than 20 per cent of a population have tried (as is the case with
marijuana) and especially if the conduct itself doesn't do serious
harm except for occupying the police's time, then it's the label of
criminality, and not the conduct itself, which is wrong. Civil rights
debates, sparked by open violations of existing laws, eventually
changed attitudes and legislation about abortion and slavery and
segregation, and will someday contribute to relaxation of marijuana

Perhaps my activities in support of decriminalization are occasionally
seen (even by my own mother) to be unnecessarily confrontational or
even juvenile. I am a mature, conscious, responsible man and it
troubles me to be so thought of. That, however, is a price I'm
prepared to pay in this battle. By focusing public attention on the
issue, perhaps even to the point of "confrontation," I hope to
stimulate debate in the courtrooms and newspapers and hopefully, even
in the police stations and classrooms of this country. Where should we
debate and exercise our rights if not in the public eye?

The lack of an informed, meaningful debate is, in my opinion, the main
reason our cannabis laws don't reflect the reality of society. Lots of
people use marijuana but few speak openly about it. To our individual
and collective detriment, cannabis use is hidden by parents and
teachers from children, by the self-same children from their teachers
and parents, by politicians from constituents ("I never inhaled!") by
doctors from patients and lawyers from clients and vice versa - the
list goes on and on. As a result, discussions about cannabis often
take place behind closed doors or in the context of childish jokes.

In my opinion an open debate, if it remains honest and well-informed,
usually leads to the conclusion that marijuana is not a terribly
serious problem in our society, and certainly doesn't merit the
resources (police, justice, corrections, to name but a few) we
squander fighting it in our "War on Drugs." And what has this war,
accompanied by secrecy and misinformation, accomplished after more
than four decades? Our children have ever easier access to
increasingly stronger and more dangerous drugs at cheaper prices. High
school students report that marijuana (because it's completely
illegal) is much easier for them to get than alcohol. Once our
children learn they were lied to (albeit with the best intentions)
about the evils of marijuana, who can be surprised that some become
curious about harder drugs?

Prohibition assumes we are a bunch of moral nincompoops who need
legislation (and police oversight) to make choices for us about
potentially dangerous things. This is nonsense. We make such decisions
for ourselves (with the possibility of impacting upon others) every
time we open a package of cigarettes or start a car or light a
barbecue. Those of us who want to go through life stoned can already
do so using any number of legal and readily available intoxicants.
Most of us are not so inclined, and the number of those who are does
not depend upon the drug choices available. Easier access to marijuana
won't turn us into a society of drug addicts any more than easy access
to booze creates runaway alcoholism.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should use cannabis. I feel that's a
personal lifestyle choice to be made by adults after adequate
reflection. As I said before, marijuana is just the currency of the
debate. The issue is our freedom to do, within reasonable limits, what
we wish with our own bodies. I want everyone to have access to
accurate and complete information and then have the freedom to
democratically choose whether or not this marijuana prohibition should
continue. We should no more entrust drug policy and education
exclusively to police than we would permit soldiers to be the only
teachers of the history of war.

I'm certainly not suggesting children should have access to marijuana.
It always has been and remains the responsibility of parents to be the
stewards of their children with respect to drug use and other moral
issues. The law has proven to be a cumbersome, ineffective and often
counter-productive tool in this respect - it's time to stop using it
to club our citizens (and especially our children) and instead to
approach this important issue consciously, conscientiously and honestly.

Rick Reimer,

Killaloe, ON
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