Pubdate: Tue, 28 Apr 2009
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2009 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Note: Rob Breakenridge Hosts The World Tonight, Weeknights From 6:30 
- -- 9P.m. On AM770 CHQR
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


As federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson puts it, coffee is "the 
currency that is used to bring other more serious drugs into the country."

Accordingly, the government has tabled legislation to, among other 
things, impose one-year mandatory jail time for selling coffee.

Oops . . . did I say coffee? How embarrassing. Of course, it's quite 
ridiculous to suggest that we would criminalize the sale or 
consumption of coffee. Oh sure, prohibiting the sale of coffee would 
immediately make it the purview of organized crime, thus making it a 
"currency" of sorts. No doubt such criminal elements would employ 
violent tactics in obtaining and protecting supply and territory.

Fortunately, such a scenario is confined to the vivid imagination -- 
no one for a moment would dare suggest including caffeine alongside 
other illegal drugs. But what makes caffeine an unlikely candidate 
for criminalization is an honest assessment of what it is and the 
impact of its consumption.

What the federal justice minister was actually referring to was a 
different drug: marijuana. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to 
equate caffeine with marijuana. Nor, however, would I equate caffeine 
with alcohol or nicotine. Such determinations are, of course, largely 

By the same standards, it would be foolish to lump marijuana in with 
cocaine or heroin. The only basis for such a comparison is the fact 
that all three are illegal. So therefore, by this logic, if we were 
to ban caffeine it could then be equated with cocaine and heroin.

In other words, it becomes a circular and irrational argument: why is 
marijuana illegal? Because it's dangerous. Why is it dangerous? 
Because it's illegal.

Which brings us back to Minister Nicholson. In describing marijuana 
as a "currency" for harder drugs and suggesting it "lubricates" the 
business of the underworld, he is absolutely right -- we've made it 
that way. The same would be true of illegal coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes.

Instead, Nicholson is in-advertently making the case against his 
government's own policy: marijuana is a threat, but that threat has 
nothing to do with marijuana. Therefore, the rationale becomes the 
rationale: we need to get tough on marijuana because its illegal.

I can appreciate that in lieu of an actual conservative agenda, a 
tough law-and-order approach can help satisfy the hunger of a most 
famished conservative base. Certain elements of that approach are 
commendable: there is much wrong with our justice system and it's 
encouraging to see a government willing to address that.

And contrary to some of the government's many critics, there are 
certain areas of crime that are getting worse, even though overall 
crime would seem to be on the decrease. We have seen increases in 
gang violence and violent youth crime -- two areas this government 
has singled out for attention.

However, it is drug prohibition which is at the root of so much of 
the violence we are trying to address. Which then begs the question: 
does "getting tough on crime"mean we want less crime or merely more 
criminals on whom we can "get tough"? The government's ongoing 
commitment to the war on drugs would seem to ensure that it's the latter.

It is time for a rethink. More of the same policy only means more of 
the same result on the streets. A good place to start would be the 
private members bill tabled by Liberal MP Keith Martin which would 
decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalization does not go far enough, however. A bolder approach 
would be to revisit the 2002 report of the Canadian Senate Special 
Committee on Illegal Drugs which recommended the legalization of marijuana.

Any honest assessment of marijuana should indicate that it belongs 
not alongside cocaine and heroin, but rather alongside alcohol and 
tobacco: legal, regulated, and restricted to adults.

And if we really want to stop marijuana from being used as a 
"currency" by organized crime, then the simplest and most logical 
means by which to do so is to take it out of their realm.

In defending this new bill, Nicholson argued that Canadians remain 
confused about the legal status of smoking marijuana. What confuses 
me is why the government remains intent on pursuing an illogical and 
counterproductive course of action.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom