Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2012
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Lee Prokaska


It may be old-fashioned paternalism or 21st{+-}century Conservative
ideology. Either way, it's clear our federal government is not on the
same page as most Canadians when it comes to our marijuana laws.

While the rest of us seem to be leaning toward relaxing laws around
marijuana, the federal government maintains a tough stance on weed.

A week ago, Forum Research polled 1,849 randomly selected people over
the phone. Sixty-five per cent of those polled want to see our pot
laws loosened; they favour either decriminalizing small amounts or
legalizing and taxing marijuana. Only 17 per cent believe the current
pot laws should remain and 15 per cent favour tougher laws.

A recent British Columbia report from Angus Reid pollsters indicated
about 75 per cent support for decriminalizing marijuana use among
adults. Earlier this month, voters in Washington state and Colorado
voted in favour of decriminalizing pot.

A large part of the marijuana issue is economic. A recent study in
B.C. estimated pot purchases in that province total about half a
billion dollars every year. Data from Washington state, referenced in
the B.C. study, suggested that if the state regulated the marijuana
sector, it would bring in as much as $2.5 billion in taxes over a
five-year period.

One school of thought suggests pot should be viewed in the same way we
view alcohol and tobacco, both of which are strictly regulated and
highly taxed. Despite concerns over addiction and health issues,
governments are themselves addicted to the vast pools of tax revenue
generated by drinking and smoking.

There is, too, a law-and-order argument to be made when it comes to
the question of legalizing marijuana. One less illicit substance
means, in theory at least, one less stressor in the underground drug
trade and one less reason for rival gangs to attack each other.

These premises, though, have no traction with the federal government.
Instead, Stephen Harper's government has been increasing the harshness
of the justice system's response to marijuana, increasing maximum
prison time and imposing mandatory jail terms for growing six or more
marijuana plants.

Is the government considering legalizing small amounts of pot for
personal use? Not that we can see. Is nabbing, convicting and
punishing casual tokers - clogging the courts in doing so - the best
use of our overburdened law enforcement system? Apparently the federal
government believes so, although we would suggest police resources
across the country would be better deployed against serious, broadly
harmful criminal activity. Will the federal government catch up with
most Canadians on this issue? We really hope so.
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