Pubdate: Mon, 19 Dec 2011
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2011 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Authors: Larry Campbell, Philip Owen and Sam Sullivan

Three Former Vancouver Mayors Call for an End of Pot Prohibition


Canada has reached a critical time in its misguided War on Weed. 
Despite investing countless billions across North America in areas 
such as law enforcement, prison expansion and border controls, 
marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure. Youth today have 
easier access to pot than alcohol and tobacco, organized crime is 
getting rich and some neighbourhoods remain deadly combat zones as 
arrests lead to new rounds of turf warfare among gangs controlling 
the marijuana trade.

Now, Canada's federal government and the B.C. provincial government 
are on the verge of committing many more billions of our tax dollars 
to this failed policy.

It's lunacy. Since 1908, when Canada passed the Anti-Opium Act, we 
have had a century of experience to know that an approach that 
emphasizes prohibition and leans heavily on costly law enforcement 
and imprisonment will fail.

Civic leaders are the politicians closest to the gang-related 
violence that plays out on city streets. As former mayors of 
Vancouver, we are calling for an alternative to marijuana 
prohibition. Our call is not new; some mayors in B.C. have already 
voiced support for our efforts. And in 2007, mayors at the annual 
United States Conference of Mayors voted unanimously in favour of a 
statement that noted the War on Drugs has failed and called for a 
public health approach to drug policy.

Unfortunately, senior levels of government have either ignored pleas 
to reconsider marijuana prohibition or disregarded evidence that 
proves - conclusively - that the crusade they are on is doomed to fail.

Canada's federal government continues to state its strong opposition 
to taxation and regulation of marijuana while the B.C. government 
dodges the question by repeating the mantra that it is focused on 
jobs and family. But it is families that pay the price for broken 
communities and gang warfare.

The lessons of alcohol prohibition are directly relevant to the 
experience with marijuana. Just as with alcohol prohibition - which 
failed to suppress alcohol use, wasted police resources and turned 
ordinary citizens into criminals - under marijuana prohibition young 
people have consistently had easier access to pot than alcohol or 
cigarettes. And just like the emergence of the violent illegal market 
controlled by gangsters like Al Capone in the 1920s, marijuana 
prohibition has similarly fueled the growth of organized crime.

The RCMP in British Columbia has consistently highlighted the violent 
methods that biker gangs and other organized crime groups use to 
control the trade in marijuana and other drugs. In one recent report, 
they said the drug trade in B.C. includes "homicides, contract 
killings, kidnappings, vicious ordered assaults, extortion and arson 
[which] continues to be the hallmark of all levels of the drug economy."

In 2009, there were no fewer than 276 incidents of drive-by shootings 
in B.C., which, the RCMP added, often occurred without regard for 
public safety.

Recently, we wrote an open letter to elected leaders in British 
Columbia urging them to join us as part of a new coalition called 
Stop the Violence BC, which is attempting to "break the silence" 
regarding the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition. The 
coalition, which consists of leading legal, law enforcement and 
public health experts, has called for a strictly regulated legal 
market for adult marijuana use as a strategy to address the 
ineffectiveness and serious harms of marijuana prohibition.

Not only could this strategy raise hundreds of millions of dollars in 
tax revenue, experts believe that employing the regulatory tools and 
educational strategies that have pushed down rates of tobacco use 
could also reduce rates of marijuana use. While marijuana is illegal, 
none of those effectively regulatory tools are policy options.

While it is true that drug laws are a federal issue, the need for 
provincial leadership has never been greater. After all, it is the 
provinces that will be on the hook for the billions of dollars that 
will be required to house an increased prison population and pay for 
other measures under the federal government's proposed mandatory 
minimum sentencing legislation. Even though mandatory minimum 
sentences have unequivocally failed to address the drug problem south 
of the border, the B.C. provincial government has voiced support for 
the proposed federal omnibus crime bill which includes mandatory 
minimum prison sentences for anyone caught with more than five 
marijuana plants.

The federal and provincial governments should heed the words of the 
Fraser Institute, a conservative-leaning think-tank that opposes 
marijuana prohibition and laments the fact that marijuana-related 
revenue and profits go straight to criminal enterprises rather than 
government coffers.

Politicians at all levels - whether in government or opposition - can 
no longer ignore the violence, crime and financial costs to taxpayers 
related to marijuana prohibition. By taxing and regulating marijuana 
under a strict public health framework, politicians can help stop the 
growth of a massive underground economy that enriches gangsters 
rather than the public purse and does nothing to prevent young people 
from easily accessing marijuana. Politicians must act, now, before 
billions more are foolishly spent and further blood is shed.

It's time politicians recognize that prohibition has been with us for 
103 years, and ask themselves, "How are we doing so far?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom