Pubdate: Tue, 06 Aug 2013
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Terry Field
Note: Troy Media columnist Terry Field is an associate professor and 
program chair of the journalism major in the bachelor of 
communication program at Mount Royal University in Calgary.


Making Marijuana Legal Could Severely Impact Gangs

Legalizing marijuana use in Canada could be the best way, and maybe 
the only way, to protect children inclined or forced to use the stuff.

That's the view of Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of 
Canada, and the only Canadian political figure of note to have the 
guts to speak to the issue.

Immediately and predictably attacked by his political opponents, 
Trudeau is nonetheless right to suggest that we, as a society, need 
to consider new approaches to an old problem.

Trudeau's view is likely new to most Canadians, though he has mused 
about it publicly before. Readers might also be surprised to hear 
that many Latin American politicians and policy analysts are saying 
the same thing.

The issue is far too complex to address here, but we can agree there 
is a need to explore alternatives of our current way of dealing with drugs.

Let's also allow that marijuana use will damage your health, and that 
legalization would have consequences. There is a tendency among most 
politicians and editorialists to use that argument to dismiss change 
out-of-hand, when they should be willing to at least explore the possibilities.

The argument for legalization would primarily be an acknowledgement 
of failed social policy. It is a fact, even a sad one, that human 
beings will explore the use of substances that alter their state of 
mind. It is certainly sad that many millions of North Americans live 
desperate lives as a result of overuse and resulting addiction.

The question of what is to be done about it is challenging.

It was U.S. president Richard Nixon who established the so-called 
"war on drugs" in the 1970s, which beefed up policing and military 
activities in the United States and in countries around the world 
that supplied drugs to American users.

That "war," as Trudeau rightly suggested, has been a complete, 
abject, costly failure on all levels. Drug use is more rampant now 
than then. Highly militarized and monumentally wealthy cartels are 
also trafficking in armaments and humans, as well as drugs. Our 
response politically has been to spend even more money, only to see 
50,000-plus people killed in Mexico alone over the past half dozen years.

Ironically, even though the United States, and by geography Canada, 
are the main markets for drugs in North America, the most active 
minds and voices on the subject are in Latin America.

As recently as May of this year, an Organization of American States 
(OAS) report concluded that governments of the hemisphere need to 
look seriously at the potential value of legalizing marijuana. The 
OAS has never been known for its radical take on things, and is in 
fact highly conservative. It has been forced into taking this stance 
by its members, with Canada and the U.S. on the wrong side of the 
prevailing view.

Predictably, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen 
Harper have dismissed it summarily. It is mind-boggling that such 
smart men are so afraid of considering the idea, particularly when so 
many equally smart people are open to it. It seems that Obama and 
Harper are satisfied with the status quo, the deaths, social 
disruption and gang violence in their communities.

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance, driving an 
underground industry worth billions of dollars. Making its use legal 
could severely impact gang activity everywhere. Selling it as we do 
alcohol and cigarettes would allow for limits on strength and 
additives, and control in sales to minors. Tobacco-styled warnings 
could be put on packages, and driving under the influence treated 
severely. The billions of dollars generated in taxes could be used to 
treat drug addictions and pay for public education.

People will continue to use drugs, and our choice is to either 
continue advancing policing and military responses or to examine 
reasonably considered alternatives. Trudeau should be applauded for 
having the courage to address the issue. It would be nice to see 
other Canadian policy-makers, political analysts and editorialists 
join in a serious examination of the possibility and potential of change.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom