Pubdate: Tue, 30 Jul 2013
Source: Kingston Whig-Standard (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 Sun Media
Author: Craig Jones
Page 10


Courage is the rarest of all qualities in political life. It's easier
and safer to do and say nothing, which is why bad policies last as
long as they do. Once you speak up, as Mr. Trudeau and our own MP, Ted
Hsu have done, you risk the wrath of people who don't necessarily
understand the issues but don't think anything should change either
("Pot should be legal, Hsu says," July 26).

Cannabis law reform provides an excellent example. Policymakers have
known, since at least the Le Dain commission report of the early
1970s, that cannabis prohibition could not be justified on any
cost-benefit basis; that its prohibition was more harmful than the
effects of the drug itself on individuals or society. Every policy
analysis since then - either government on non-governmental, Canadian
or international - has arrived at the same conclusion.

Bad policies persist because good people are reluctant to say out loud
what they often agree on in private - and because the short-term
nature of electoral politics incentivizes cynicism and hypocrisy. So
doing and saying nothing - even betraying one's private principles -
becomes the path of least resistance. This is how it becomes
politically dangerous to speak what everyone knows to be true:
cannabis prohibition has been a disaster.

Cannabis policy bears the additional burden of decades of "reefer
madness" mythologizing and hippie-era stigmatization. What most
Canadians don't know is that cannabis was prohibited in 1923 as a
result of a moral panic by a handful of people more concerned with
maintaining the purity of the white-Anglo establishment than with the
health or well-being of users. The decision was simply announced in
Parliament - not after long deliberation with the relevant experts or
examination of the available scientific and medical evidence.

So when some policy makers tell you that cannabis is dangerous and
that's why it's prohibited, the historical record contradicts them.
Mistakes, however, are difficult for governments to acknowledge; to
wit, the residential schools program.

That said, Mr. Hsu is right: the devil is in the details. Ninety years
of cannabis prohibition has created a powerful black market that will
not happily transition to a new regime. We have a lot to learn from
our public health experience with alcohol and tobacco. But the sky
won't fall, either - though you should expect to hear that from
certain policymakers who won't be able to resist the short-term
electoral payoff of attacking those with the rare courage to say
what's true.

Craig Jones, Kingston, PhD, media relations director, NORML Canada
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