Pubdate: Thu, 14 Apr 2016
Source: Planet S (CN SN)
Copyright: 2016 Hullabaloo Publishing Ltd.
Author: Gregory Beatty


Trudeau promised to make marijuana legal. Where's that at?

Instead of "Hump Day" on April 20, thousands of Canadians will 
celebrate "Hemp Day" through the annual 4/20 protest against pot 
prohibition. With the Trudeau Liberals committed to legalizing 
cannabis, spirits should be high.

But the fact remains that unless you're a licensed medical user, if 
you possess or share marijuana at the protest, you're breaking the law.

Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief who's the government's 
point man on the file as parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister 
Jody Wilson-Raybould, made that crystal clear in a recent CBC interview.

"I think it's really important that we continue to use the tools that 
are available to us to keep our communities safe," he said. "The only 
control that's currently in place is the criminal sanction and... 
those laws must continue to be respected and upheld across the country."

"Nudge, nudge, wink, wink," some of you are perhaps thinking. But 
each year over 22,000 Canadians are busted for pot under the 
Controlled Drugs & Substances Act. Just the other day in Calgary, 
Vancouver cannabis crusader Dana Larsen was arrested for handing out 
seed at a rally. That's the bust that made headlines, but most police 
"collars" are among the poor and underprivileged.

Once convicted, Canadians have a criminal record which greatly 
complicates employment, travel and other activities. They might even 
face jail time - especially since the Harper Conservatives introduced 
mandatory minimums for some pot offenses in its 2012 omnibus crime bill.

The Liberals first step in legalizing cannabis will see Blair chair a 
task force composed of federal, provincial and municipal government 
officials, along with experts in public health, substance abuse and the police.

"I don't know what's going to happen, no one does. Bill Blair's 
committee hasn't even been named yet," says Blair Longley, a 
long-time cannabis advocate and leader of the federally registered 
Marijuana Party.

"But when you look at who the Liberals have appointed to lead the 
task force, you could hardly imagine a worse person. Blair made his 
career as a narc, and when he was police chief he supervised the 
biggest mass arrest in Canadian history when people who came out to 
peacefully protest the G20 were kettled with almost a thousand ending 
up in jail."

Conceivably, Blair's appointment could be a strategic move by the 
Liberals to short-circuit opposition to legalization. And there will 
be opposition, make no mistake. To prepare for the impending battle, 
conservative heavyweights even held a panel on cannabis at the recent 
Manning Conference in Ottawa.

Presenters were divided on the issue of legalization, one media 
report noted, and the audience was too between "grassroots social 
conservatives, Red Tories and libertarians - and between some younger 
and older conservatives."

It's one thing to have mixed views on cannabis at a political 
conference. But when that confusion extends to the legal arena it's a 
much bigger problem. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 
Canadians are guaranteed equal treatment under the law. But when it 
comes to marijuana that's not true, says Longley.

"Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and somewhat now in Toronto, you can 
do all kinds of things that you can't do in the rest of Canada," says 
Longley. "Even parts of B.C. controlled by the RCMP where the 
politics are more conservative are still very repressive. And in 
Montreal, police have hounded out of existence all attempts to run 
medical marijuana dispensaries and vapour lounges."

Meanwhile, south of the border, five states have legalized 
recreational cannabis [see sidebar]. Dozens more license its medical 
use - as does Canada, and over 40,000 Canadians are authorized by 
Health Canada to consume marijuana for medical purposes.

Seems bizarre, doesn't it? But it's perfectly consistent with the 
incredibly stupid history of cannabis prohibition.

Reefer Madness

"Hemp is the single best plant on the planet - for food, first and 
foremost, as hemp seeds are the best source of plant protein and oil 
there is, better than soybeans," says Longley. "Hemp is also a high 
quality fibre - far better than cotton in not requiring fertilizer 
and pesticides. Then there's its medicinal properties, and its use 
for recreation.

"So you have the single best plant for food, fun, fibre and medicine 
- - and it gets transformed into 'marijuana' through this 'reefer 
madness' mindset that says it's an addictive narcotic that makes you 
criminally insane and kills you."

In 1894, Britain struck a commission to investigate "Indian Hemp" as 
cannabis was then called. It concluded that moderate use produced "no 
ill effects", and that society had sustained "little injury" from 
hemp drugs. Yet in 1923 in Canada, the Mackenzie King-led Liberals 
added cannabis to a schedule of outlawed drugs that also included 
heroin/opium, morphine and cocaine.

"There was zero problem at the time with cannabis consumption as a 
psychoactive substance," says Longley. "Nobody did it, nobody knew 
about it. It wasn't until the 1960s that use exploded with the 
counterculture and the rate of arrests went from practically nothing 
to tens of thousands."

So why did the King government act? Well, that's a complicated question.

Alcohol prohibition had been in force since 1918, so moral purity was 
part of it. As well, in North America cannabis was associated with 
marginalized minorities (Asians in Canada, and African-Americans in 
the U.S.). So racism was a factor, as was concern for the delicate 
sensibilities of white women who might be exposed to "demon weed".

And cannabis was demonized, says Longley.

"Reefer Madness is the best-known propaganda movie, but there were 
almost 100 of them. And if you were to make a dramatization today of 
the House of Commons debates [on criminalizing cannabis] most people 
would find them hilarious, because they would recognize how absurd it was."

U.S. newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst even launched one of his 
patented "yellow journalism" campaigns. Critics today argue that 
Hearst was desperate to protect his lumber holdings from competition 
from versatile hemp fibre.

Legalization advocates have long equated pot prohibition with alcohol 
prohibition. When the latter was in effect in the 1920s, criminal 
gangs reaped windfall riches supplying the black market. Bootlegged 
booze was easy to obtain, as cannabis is now for youth and adults 
alike, and gangs engaged in bloody turf wars that caused massive social strife.

"We're probably headed toward a recapitulation of the alcohol story," 
Longley says. "Once it was legalized again in 1933, various 
oligopolies developed and still exist where there's a few big 
corporations that dominate the market."

For Canadians who are casual consumers or at least pot-friendly, that 
probably sounds okay. But Longley is dismayed at the level of 
fear-mongering going on.

"Many Canadians no longer believe the big lie, so there's been the 
promotion of Reefer Madness 2.0 with headlines trumpeting junk 
science that marijuana causes psychosis, or makes you stupid, and 
exaggerating the danger of driving when you have a few nanograms of 
THC in your blood and [comparing] it to being seriously drunk."

Legalizing cannabis may even violate international treaties 
prohibiting the possession and production of narcotics and 
psychotropic substances, experts have warned.

Profit Motive

Researchers are still fleshing out the science around cannabis but 
anecdotal reports on the medical benefits for numerous illnesses and 
chronic conditions seem persuasive. And with a recreational market 
estimated at $5 billion in Canada alone, the stakes are definitely high.

Not surprisingly, corporate interests, many with ties to the medical 
marijuana industry that the Conservatives helped spur by curtailing 
the right of licensed users to grow their own medicine, are jockeying 
for position.

Colorado applies a 25 per cent sales tax to recreational marijuana. 
Then there's the corporate take to consider. While the bud in 
licensed dispensaries is undoubtedly primo, the end price is double 
the black market.

As part of its legalization initiative, the Trudeau government has 
promised to crack down on anyone who sells cannabis outside the new 
regulatory framework. Repeal of alcohol prohibition put most 
bootleggers out of business, but compared to booze cannabis is 
incredibly easy and inexpensive to produce. So if the price of legal 
cannabis is set too high, a thriving black market will likely remain.

"I hope I'm wrong, but what I expect is that the Liberals are going 
to come up with Prohibition 2.0 where regulations will restrict 
access in ways that it's still ridiculously expensive and a tiny 
group will make all the money," says Longley.

Sounds like monopoly capitalism as usual. You expected something better?

Rocky Mountain High

Five U.S. states have voted in "reeferendums" to legalize 
recreational cannabis. Colorado and Washington State were first in 
2012, and in 2014 Alaska, Oregon and District of Columbia joined 
them. California, Nevada, Maine and Arizona are among states holding 
votes this year or considering other ways to legalize it.

The five states in which recreational cannabis is legal followed 
different paths in setting up regulatory regimes, and some have 
worked better than others. Colorado is regarded as a success story.

So what's it like?

Colorado limits the sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older. State 
residents can possess up to an ounce, while non-residents are limited 
to a quarter ounce. Residents can also grow up to six plants for 
their own use, and can gift up to one ounce to another adult.

Recently, an anonymous acquaintance visited the resort town of Vail, Colorado.

"A bylaw limits dispensaries to the warehouse/commercial area," says 
Anonymous Acquaintance. "We didn't notice a lot of advertisement for 
wares, but shops are allowed to have websites. They can display their 
names on the storefront too, but no window shopping.

"There were three shops in the area, and over three days we went to 
each," says A.A. "You need state-issued photo ID or, in our case, a 
passport. It was inspected at the door, and when making a purchase.

"Overall, the experience was excellent!" says Anonymous Acquaintance. 
"You can't browse like in a liquor store as everything is in glass 
display cases or on shelves behind the counter. But they have 
everything including inhalers, edibles, bongs, one-hitters, etc. The 
staff is knowledgeable, and able to make recommendations on strain, 
strength and likely effects. They know they have a good thing, and 
all the places were very careful to make sure proper protocol was followed.

"If we had a similar situation here, I'd absolutely be in favour!" 
A.A. concludes. "It was clearly well controlled and regulated to make 
sure no minors were involved and the proper taxes were collected." 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D