Pubdate: Tue, 13 Apr 2010
Source: Nelson Daily News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 Nelson Daily News
Author: David Seymour
Note: David Seymour directs the Saskatchewan office of the Frontier 
Centre (
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)


Seventeen per cent of Canadians report having used cannabis in the 
past year, despite it being illegal.  Prohibition, it seems, is 
hardly stopping people from using cannabis.

For perspective, cigarettes are available at every corner store and 
the Canadian Cancer Society reports that tobacco use stands at 18 per cent.

When I was in university, one of my favourite people was a Member of 
Parliament who represented a very conservative riding yet held very 
liberal views on cannabis law reform.  On the one hand, he would 
maintain that "Your mind is how you experience the world and I can't 
see why anyone would allow chemicals to dull the one chance they get 
to experience it." But then he would turn on a dime: "Let's be 
honest, this government I'm serving can't even keep cannabis out of 
prisons. Even in a tiny area guarded with guns, barbed wire, and four 
metre high concrete walls, we can't enforce the drug laws.  Who here 
really thinks we can keep cannabis out of our sparsely populated 
country while respecting peoples' privacy and freedom of movement?"

The Price of Prohibition

His comments were reinforced recently when the Saskatchewan media 
reported actual examples of governments failing to keep cannabis out 
of prisons. This news, given that prisons are purposely designed to 
be secure, should prompt us to ask whether we are being rational in 
our attempts to prohibit cannabis from an entire country that is the 
world's second largest and most sparsely populated.  We must further 
ask if the "cure" - prohibition - has side effects that are worse 
than the drug disease.

The conservative C2C Journal to the neo-Marxist This magazine have 
recently published arguments similar to that made by the Member of 
Parliament.  In a thoughtful C2C article entitled "The Price of Pot 
Prohibition," Peter Jaworski gives a picture of the difficulties 
inherent in a attempting to prohibit cannabis use.

In fact, a 2002 Senate Special Report found that, in 2006, 
authorities seized only 50 tonnes, or six per cent, of an estimated 
800 tonnes of cannabis which circulated in Canada, which would seem 
to indicate that prohibition is to the cannabis trade as flies are to 
elephants: annoying but mostly irrelevant.

But, prohibitionists may maintain, if 17 per cent of Canadians smoke 
pot now, imagine if it was legal! Legislation decriminalizing 
cannabis use would be an implicit endorsement by the state, and the 
problem would get much worse than it is already.

However, the facts say otherwise: In the US, famous for its War on 
Drugs and with an estimated half million people in prison for drug 
offenses, 12.2 per cent use cannabis, while in the Netherlands, where 
people are able to legally buy and smoke cannabis in public, 5.4 per 
cent are users.

Further, so long as cannabis is illegal but in common use, an 
industry exists in which people can't access the police and court 
system for the enforcement of contracts and protection of their 
property.  You can hardly report to the police that your runner ran 
off with your cannabis, or tell a judge that your grower has breached 
his contract. As a result, contracts and property rights in the drug 
business are enforced in much the same way as they are in the wider 
economy of Somalia; by people taking the law into their own hands.

Worse still, the burden of such lawlessness in not evenly spread 
across society.  While middle-class parents may take some comfort 
from knowing that drugs are illegal, it is less well-to-do kids who 
are tempted by gangs enjoying the high profits associated with the 
dangerous but lucrative business of dealing drugs outside the law.

A Bad Deal

Finally, while economic projections are notoriously inaccurate, the 
best ones we have suggest that prohibition is a bad deal.  Based on 
current usage and values, Jaworski estimates that a tax on legal 
cannabis could generate between $1 and $3 billion, plus half a 
billion dollars saved from not having to enforce prohibition.  For 
perspective, raising the GST by one percentage point would raise 
about three billion dollars.

Based on work by the Canadian Centre for Substance abuse, the 
"social" costs of healthcare and lost productivity from cannabis is 
currently estimated at approximately half a billion dollars.  While 
legislation legalizing cannabis could double usage ( although this 
seems unlikely as Canada already has the highest usage rates in the 
industrialised world ), the country would still be richer thanks to 
the tax revenue and enforcement reductions.

It may just be time to kill the sacred cow of prohibition.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake