Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jul 2008
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2008 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Margaret Wente
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


We Canadians love our bud. We lead the Western world in marijuana 
use. More than 10 million of us have inhaled at some time or other, 
and nearly 17 per cent of us partook in the past year. In B.C. - 
where entire towns have turned to cultivating cannabis - the economy 
would suffer without it. Among all illicit drugs, it is by far the 
most benign. It wrecks far fewer lives than alcohol, and medical 
marijuana may do some good.

So why not just go ahead and make it legal?

More than half of all Canadians think we should. "Legalize, then tax 
the hell out of it," says Senator Larry Campbell.

Sounds swell - until you think about it. Then the problems start. 
Here's one. What about the kids? Do we really want a lot more 
15-year-olds getting stoned? Okay, we could prohibit pot for minors. 
Can you explain why that would work any better than it does with 
booze and cigarettes?

That's just one of the vexed questions raised by UCLA professor Mark 
Kleiman, one of the more thoughtful experts on drug policy today. 
Basically, he's a liberal. "Criminal punishment of marijuana use does 
not appear to be justified," he maintains. But legalization has big 
problems too. "Full commercial legalization of cannabis, on the model 
now applied to alcohol, would vastly increase the cannabis-abuse 
problem by giving the marketing geniuses who have done such a fine 
job persuading children to smoke tobacco, drink to excess and 
super-size themselves another vice to foster," he argues.

Legalizing pot would surely drive up use - and abuse. That's why 
rates of alcohol abuse are so high. Alcohol abuse - and rates of 
liver disease - hit bottom during Prohibition. Nor is pot completely 
harmless, even though I am sure that you, dear reader, handle it just 
fine. It's three times stronger than it used to be and, for a 
minority of people, it's very bad indeed.

Okay, so the government could regulate it. And how would that work? 
Would we have CCBOs or B.C. Cannabis Stores? Would they hand out a 
glossy magazine with alluring product shots? Would unionized clerks 
dispense advice on the best bong for your buck? Or maybe they'd run 
it like the lottery, and hire really good ad agencies to produce 
compulsive gamblers.

"What you might call the political economy of drug legalization is a 
bigger problem than the legalizers seem to grasp," Mr. Kleiman has 
said. "Either we will have a private industry whose profits depend on 
creating and maintaining addicts, or we will have a public 
bureaucracy whose revenues depend on creating and maintaining 
addicts." We could always lock it up behind the counter and plaster 
it with warning signs. But there's still the problem of supply. Who 
gets to grow it? How much THC content should it have? What should the 
profit margins be? If we tax the hell out of it, why won't illegal 
dealers sell it cheaper down the street?

Legalizers contend that marijuana laws do far more harm than 
marijuana does. They love to conjure up an image of prisons stuffed 
with innocent kids who were caught with a J or two. But that's a 
myth. Simple possession has been decriminalized in practice, if not 
in law. Under the Young Offenders Act, no kid gets a record for a 
drug offence. And cops don't bother to lay possession charges against 
adults, unless they also catch them doing something else.

Yet legalizers love ranting about the prison-industrial complex and 
George Bush's failed War on Drugs, as if that's our only alternative 
to the corner pot store. Many also argue that all drug laws should be 
repealed, as if cocaine were no worse than weed. Mark Kleiman has a 
middle view. He thinks people should probably be allowed to have and 
grow small amounts of pot for their own use, and that the cops should 
direct their efforts toward the most violent criminal dealing groups.

Which is about what we do now. Somehow, we've got it kind of right. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake