Pubdate: Sun, 08 Nov 2015
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2015 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Chapman


Canada was recently ranked the freest country in the world, but newly 
installed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn't about to let it rest on 
its maple leaves. He won the October national elections after 
proposing something no major American presidential nominee has ever 
dared to endorse: legalizing marijuana.

His Liberal Party argued that because of the current ban, "proceeds 
from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater 
threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs." Its 
platform called for legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis.

The Liberals probably benefited from Conservative Prime Minister 
Stephen Harper's fantastical claim that "marijuana is infinitely 
worse" than tobacco - which, experts promptly noted, kills more 
Canadians than alcohol, hard drugs, guns, car wrecks and HIV combined.

Trudeau is now in a position to change the pot law, since he commands 
a majority in the House of Commons as well as agreement from small 
parties that hold seats. Public opinion is on his side, with 56 
percent of Canadians favoring legalization. The voters favored 
Trudeau's party despite - or because of - his admission to smoking 
pot as a member of Parliament.

Our neighbor to the north, however, will have to hurry to get ahead 
of our neighbor to the south. On Wednesday, the Mexican Supreme Court 
ruled that individuals have a right to grow and consume marijuana as 
they please, as a simple matter of liberty.

"The responsible decision taken to experiment with the effects of 
this substance - whatever personal harm it might do - belongs within 
the autonomy of the individual, protected by their freedom to develop 
themselves," wrote Justice Arturo Zaldivar.

In the United States, things are moving more slowly but in the same 
direction. On Tuesday, Ohioans rejected legalization even though 
polls indicate most of them favor the concept. That measure would 
have granted exclusive production rights to 10 groups of investors, 
which did not go over well. Even groups like the Drug Policy Alliance 
and the Marijuana Policy Project could not bring themselves to 
endorse the plan, preferring to be neutral.

Four states have already allowed recreational weed: Washington, 
Colorado, Oregon and Alaska (in addition to the District of 
Columbia). How was it worked out? In Washington and Colorado, the 
first to do it, public support has grown as opponents realized that 
their fears were misplaced or exaggerated.

Voters are likely to get the chance to decide the issue in several 
other states next year, including California, Massachusetts and 
Arizona. Vermont has a better idea. It appears poised to become the 
first state to legalize pot by the legislative process.

If that happens, "the dam breaks," predicts Allen St. Pierre, 
executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws. "Nearly all of New England will move that way," he 
told me. Something similar happened a few years ago with civil unions.

Speaking of Vermont, its junior senator, Bernie Sanders, has 
introduced a bill to end the federal ban on cannabis, which would 
leave the question entirely up to the states. He has also said that 
if he lived in Nevada, which will have a ballot measure next year to 
legalize pot, he would vote for it. The war on drugs, he believes, 
"has done an enormous amount of damage."

Those are pretty bold words for a presidential candidate. But in this 
case, the public has raced ahead of the politicians. An October 
Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legalization - 
a higher share of the electorate than in Canada, and up from just 36 
percent a decade ago.

Decades of exposure to the drug have convinced people that the 
dangers of allowing cannabis consumption are smaller than the harms 
caused by outlawing it. Those include enriching homicidal criminal 
gangs here and in Mexico, as well as damaging lives and wasting money 
arresting hapless stoners.

Given the choice, as it happens, most people still wouldn't smoke 
weed. In the Netherlands, where cannabis shops are allowed, marijuana 
use among adults and teens is lower than it is here.

Another harm is that prohibition deprives individuals of the liberty 
to decide whether the pleasures of using pot outweigh the relatively 
mild health risks it presents. Legalization would be a big step 
toward making the United States freer - you know, like some other 
parts of North America.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom