Pubdate: Wed, 27 Apr 2016
Source: Record, The (CN QU)
Copyright: 2016 The Sherbrooke Record
Author: Mike McDevitt
Page: 6


Last week, on April 20 no less, the federal government announced that
legislation legalizing and regulating the recreational use of
marijuana will be ready next spring. It's been a long time coming.

The history of marijuana prohibition is a long and complicated one,
but its origins can be summarized as a part of a widespread movement
of white middle class progressives who believed in the benefits of
social engineering based on ethnic, class, and Victorian moral
grounds. It was a movement designed to 'uplift' society and advocated
for things like women's suffrage, improved working conditions, and
public health and education reform. Sadly, they also supported things
like eugenics, and forced sterilization, and residential schools.

Throughout the pre-WW2 era, marijuana usage was largely confined to
southern blacks and jazz musicians but occasionally popped into public
consciousness as a public menace threatening the very fabric of
society - not to mention the purity of our sons and daughters.

The weed came into mainstream popular culture in the 1960s in the wake
of the Beatles, long hair, the anti-war movement, and free love and
was the most benign face of a concoction of recreational substances
that included a number of addictive and dangerous drugs to which it
bore no similarity.

In the face of the sudden, almost explosive adoption of marijuana by
the nation's youth, the Liberal government of Prime Minster Pierre E.
Trudeau mandated a Parliamentary Committee under the Chairmanship of
future Supreme Court Justice Gerald LeDain to investigate the
non-medical use of drugs in Canada and, in reference to pot, suggested
that it be legalized and regulated for personal use similar to the way
in which we mange alcohol. Despite their general popular acceptance,
the recommendations of the Commission were put aside, as the United
States was enlarging its own war against the social movements there
that were associated with marijuana use - notably opposition to the
Vietnam War.

Although, it is difficult to find an objective reason for the
prohibition of cannabis, its criminally contraband status has produced
a well-established, organized, and profitable criminal network that
has virtually captured marijuana distribution. This network,
ubiquitous and unregulated, operates in a code of underworld morality
in which 'the public good' plays no role (It's like the banks that
way) and which controls billions of untaxed dollars.

Despite best efforts from governments and police, marijuana use has
remained an extremely popular activity and its regulated legalization
makes sense in a broad sense, but as the saying goes, the devil is in
the details and, as yet, those details are extremely vague.

The government has stated that its legislation will focus on
protecting the young as studies have indicated that its use among
children and adolescents (and maybe young adults) might be associated
with abnormal brain development and even the triggering of
schizophrenia. Although these studies are not conclusive, they do
indicate the need for some rigorous control, as a matter of public

The government will also have to deal with the idea of 'impairment.'
Like alcohol, a generally far more dangerous substance, cannabis is a
mood altering substance that can interfere with a number of cognitive
functions. However, it has never been categorically demonstrated that
uncontrollable giggling, an insatiable appetite for snacks, or an
appreciation of the divine aspects of the Beatles' White Album
actually constitutes 'impairment' when it comes to things like driving
(probably not) or brain surgery (definitely). So far, the technology
available for detecting marijuana cannot establish exactly when a
person partook, how stoned he or she is, or even how either of those
things contributes to impairment. Establishing a '.08' tolerance level
will not be easy, if it's to be fair. As they say, a drunk driver will
speed through a stop sign; the stoned one will wait for it to turn

The biggest question for all concerned, of course, is what a future
legal marijuana market will look like. For many, the solution is to
remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances altogether and
to let the chips fly where they will. You could grow your own,
exchange with friends, or purchase from your local farmers' market.
That isn't going to happen. There is way too much money to be made and
too many 'legitimate' people eager to get their share. There are also
all those experts who have illicitly transformed a mild little weed
into a myriad of strains with a wide variety of properties and
characteristics. They too will want to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Big business will want its share too, of course, and small businesses
will get bigger; all of which adds up to considerable revenue for
government. But which government are we talking about? How will the
spoils of billions of dollars worth of transactions be divided? Should
each province set up its own rules with pot available in convenience
stores in one province and government-owned outlets in others? How
will quality and potency be categorized and controlled? How will
regulations be enforced and by whom?

A recently published government report suggested that organized crime
might be able to infiltrate a legal marijuana market but, headlines'
aside, it is difficult to understand how a market partially
infiltrated by criminal organizations is worse than one completely
controlled by one. But as the case of tobacco illustrates, this is not
a baseless concern. Black market tobacco has infiltrated the legal
tobacco market to an extraordinary extent with estimates placing its
market share in some regions at close to 40 per cent. This is a result
of contradictory desire of government to curtail the use of another
lethal, but legal, substance while maintaining the revenues in the
form of taxes imposed throughout the lines of distribution. Contraband
tobacco products exist because legal ones are too expensive for most
nicotine addicts and if an alternative is available, they'll use it.
The result is obvious and should serve as an example to our
governments of what not to do.

There is no doubt that Canada has to emerge from the dark era of
marijuana criminality, and we certainly should reexamine our entire
drug control policy, but this is a complicated process that involves
countless issues and a large cast of players, not all of whose
interests converge. It's good that we have a year to sit back, grab
some chips, and think about it... There's a Cheech and Chong movie on
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MAP posted-by: Matt