Pubdate: Tue, 06 Oct 2015
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Webpage: Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Page: B4


Conservative Leader Makes an Inadvertent Argument for Legalization

For those who feel the niqab debate has run its course - or should 
never have ranked as an issue in the first place - the good news is 
we have plenty of campaign-worthy issues to discuss.

And it's not as though the Conservatives have been singlemindedly 
focused on the niqab issue, either. Stephen Harper, for example, made 
a rather objectionable observation about marijuana over the weekend, 
which is a perfect excuse to bring the issue of prohibition to the forefront.

Say what you will about Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, but the fact 
that a major political party has proposed to legalize marijuana is 
hugely significant. And long overdue. Perhaps the fact that so many 
Canadians are prepared to abandon the status quo has muted the 
controversy, but it's surprising that Trudeau hasn't pressed this issue harder.

For someone so at odds with public opinion, the Conservative leader 
appears more than willing to engage on this issue. A bolder Liberal 
leader would be more than happy to oblige. Harper's bizarre 
declaration is the perfect opening.

The issue did come up during last Friday's French-language leaders' 
debate, but the following day, Harper doubled down. Harper noted the 
success we've had in reducing tobacco use in Canada, but then 
declared that "tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage - 
marijuana is infinitely worse."

Such a claim must not go unchallenged.

It should be noted that Harper has walked right into an obvious 
contradiction. If tobacco is legal, how can we possibly have had 
success in significantly reducing teenage usage? Harper is 
inadvertently making the case for legalization and regulation.

But on what basis is Harper claiming that marijuana is worse - 
infinitely worse - than tobacco?

First and foremost is the fact that tobacco is responsible for 
thousands upon thousands of deaths each year in Canada - well over 
30,000 annually. Deaths directly attributable to marijuana use are, 
for all intents and purposes, zero.

Of course, marijuana use leads to impairment, whereas tobacco does 
not. We don't want marijuana-impaired drivers behind the wheel, for 
example. However, the extent of the problem in Canada isn't clear, 
and it's hard to see how the problem would be much worse than it is 
already. There's also no shortage of debate over what should 
constitute a legal limit.

But there's lots of research indicating that cigarette smokers 
themselves are at a higher risk of being involved in a crash, so it's 
not as though tobacco gets a pass here. One might also note the fact 
that careless cigarette use remains a leading cause of home fire 
deaths in Canada.

But even if one factors in the risks associated with marijuana use - 
and no one is claiming they don't exist - they still pale in 
comparison to the toll exacted by tobacco use. When it comes to 
marijuana, the greatest risks exist for young people, and like 
alcohol and tobacco, our goal here is to respect the freedom of 
consenting adults while keeping the drug away from kids.

If we added up all the costs to society ( and don't forget that 
marijuana has medicinal benefits, unlike tobacco) and then chose 
which of the two drugs we could vanquish immediately from the face of 
the Earth, which decision would offer the greatest benefit to public health?

British researcher David Nutt led an investigation a few years ago 
along exactly these lines, and ranked 16 drugs on a combined score of 
their harm to the user and harm to society. On both counts, tobacco 
was deemed worse than marijuana ( alcohol ranked the most harmful).

Harper's claim, therefore, is completely at odds with the evidence. 
But so, too, is our status quo. Whether Harper actually believes it 
is unclear, but the fact is he needs it to be true. Otherwise, his 
position crumbles.

But if ever a position deserved to crumble, it's this. So let's have 
this debate.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom