Pubdate: Sun, 21 Aug 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Bartley Kives


Decriminalizing pot could help squelch gang rivalry, add to tax

Depending on your perspective, the summer of 2011 is either the most
amazing in recent memory or one of Winnipeg's worst.

On one hand, it's been so hot and sunny in the Red River Valley this
summer, the mayor of Phoenix is probably thinking about spending a
holiday in Winnipeg for a change.

The mosquitoes are all but non-existent. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are

Even better, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are 1-7. According to a joke
making the rounds on Twitter, Mosaic Stadium in Regina has been
declared a tornado shelter, as touchdowns are considered so unlikely

Many long-suffering Winnipeggers, so used to whining about their
misfortune, are wearing sloppy smiles on their faces.

But there are plenty of people who aren't having a great summer in
this city. For starters, the arson epidemic has kept people up too
many nights in Fort Rouge, St. James and elsewhere.

Even worse, we've had enough gang violence in Winnipeg this summer to
rattle even the cynics who've become blase about the existence of
organized groups of heavily armed, highly anti-social criminals.

If the auto-shop and tattoo-parlour incidents didn't do it, the triple
shooting in the Transcona garage probably did the trick. So yet again,
we have assurances from the police they are monitoring the bad guys,
which they are, along with the usual banal utterings from

And this brings me to the belated point of today's not-so-sunny
column: When will this country -- not the city or the province but
Canada as a whole -- get serious about cracking down on gangs by
depriving them of their primary source of income?

Back in 1919, when Prohibition was enacted in the U.S., our American
friends learned a valuable lesson about supply and demand: Criminalize
a substance almost everyone wants and you create a burgeoning black

By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, organized and often
violent criminal gangs had grown fat off booze profits. Although gangs
failed to disappear after Prohibition ended, they did have to pursue
more difficult lines of work, as racketeering and smuggling did not
yield the quick, easy profits of peddling intoxicating contraband.

About 35 years later, there was a new prohibition. The 1960s
counterculture spawned a drug hysteria centred around marijuana, which
many young people tried, and LSD, which few actually did.

In the U.S., then-president Richard Nixon responded in 1971 to the
moral panic by famously declaring a war on drugs. The Canadian
response was far more sober: We launched the Commission of Inquiry
into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, headed up by law-school dean Gerald
Le Dain, who concluded in 1972 that marijuana should be

Generations of Canadian leaders have considered taking Le Dain's
advice. Pierre Trudeau made noises in the late '70s but didn't follow
through. Jean Chretien took a few baby steps in the mid-1990s, only to
stop short at the behest of a U.S. already annoyed with the influx of
Canadian weed.

The B.C. marijuana industry, ironically, sprung into high gear
following the second U.S. war on drugs, launched by Ronald Reagan in
the mid-1980s when the flow of cheap and -- by today's standards, weak
- -- marijuana from Mexico was squelched.

Today, Stephen Harper's Conservatives talk tough on crime. But Ottawa
has little interest in decriminalization, despite pleas from police
officials who would love nothing more than to deprive organized crime
of the income they earn from the production, sale and distribution of
marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

In North America today, we do not have a war on drugs. To borrow a
phrase from American author Charles Bowden, who has written
extensively about the violence in the Mexican border city of Ciudad
Juarez, this continent is engaged in a war for drugs.

In Juarez, Bowden writes, there's no way to discern the difference
between criminal gangs and law-enforcement agencies. The Mexican
police and military appear to be fighting with gangs and each other
for control of the profits from the drugs distributed in Mexico, as
well as exported to the U.S. and Canada.

Winnipeg is hardly Juarez, where thousands of homicides take place
every year. But our gangs clearly profit enough from the sale of
marijuana and cocaine to warrant the risk of trying to kill each other.

The solution to this mess is obvious, if politically unpalatable: take
control of the drug trade away from the gangs. Decriminalize marijuana
and possibly even legalize it. Then tax the bejesus out of it, like we
do with alcohol and tobacco. Also control the flow of cocaine, which
is not physically addictive, through methadone-like treatment programs.

Gangs will still try to sell drugs and find other ways to make money.
They will continue to force young women into prostitution. They may
even mimic their American counterparts by turning to more white-collar
forms of organized crime.

Decriminalization won't make gangs disappear, but it will deprive them
of the easy money that drives them to compete with each other so
violently. It would also allow police to spend less time and money
busting illegal grow operations.

To be more blunt, it isn't fair to ask police to fight gangs we
effectively arm by maintaining misguided policies. But
decriminalization won't be easy, as the concept makes a lot of people

But if we are brave, we can get tough on gangs by taking aim at their

And maybe someday, the biggest summer annoyance will be the acrid
smell of weed -- and the pizza pops the neighbour's idiot kid keeps
microwaving after he lights up.
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MAP posted-by: Matt