Pubdate: Wed, 12 Apr 2017
Source: Record, The (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 The Sherbrooke Record
Author: Mike McDevitt
Page: 6


Tomorrow, the Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau is expected to
fulfill one of its most well-publicised campaign promises and present
its much anticipated legislation to legalize the possession and use of
cannabis for recreational purposes. Why they couldn't wait another
week until April 20 (420) is a question worth pondering, but then
again, that might have required a sense of humour.

The history of drug prohibition in Canada goes back to the early 20th
Century when authorities became concerned about the use of certain
substances among Asian immigrant communities. Marijuana was added to
the ever-increasing list of banned substances in the 1920s and once
again, race was an integral component. Drug use became associated with
decadence, jazz, racial mixing, and sexual license - all things
designed to send shivers through middle-class society and its concept
of propriety.

The prohibition campaign even affected the drug of choice of the
dominant group - alcohol - in the brief and rather tragic experiment
that was prohibition - with all its puritan, class, and nativist
characteristics. That experiment ended in spectacular failure with
prohibition's repeal in the early 1930s, its only lasting effect being
a powerful organized crime network, increased consumption,
regulations, age limits, and marketing boards. In spite of a relative
relaxation of the repression of alcohol, the war on drugs continued

As the weed was relatively unknown in mainstream Canadian society, it
continued to be classified along with far more dangerous substances
like heroin and cocaine, and - as a symbol of radicalism and
alternative lifestyles - its continued demonization proved useful in
the Cold War as its use was conflated with loose morals, poor
judgment, and a pathway to the devious subversion of International

When the brush-cut conformity of 1950s America began to unravel into
the cacophony of counterculture activism in the 1960s, marijuana
became one of many symbols of youthful rebellion and became highly
politicized in the process. As its use began to explode among
previously protected white middle class youth, society began to
re-examine recreational use of the drug, largely as the exaggeration
and absurdity of the propaganda diffused by the state became apparent.
For young people, this became an excuse to doubt all claims of drug
dangers, helping to spread, rather than diminish, the use of other,
far more dangerous substances. Its prohibition also made this
diversification of recreational drug use far easier as the person who
sold the pot was just as likely to be selling coke, speed, LSD, or any
of the other substances that suddenly began to flood mainstream North
American society. Prohibition also deprived the state of any effective
means to ensure quality or protect childre! n.

When the Le Dain Commission recommended the decriminalization of the
possession and cultivation for personal use of cannabis in 1972, there
was a general consensus among the population that, although it might
not be harmless, it posed far less of a threat to public health than
the readily available alcohol, and that creating felons out of its
casual users represented a huge miscarriage of justice, not to mention
societal hypocrisy. The potential revenue associated with state
controlled distribution also began to make its implications felt.

It's been 45 years since Gerald Le Dain's commission made its rather
naive suggestions and they have been largely ignored ever since. But
times have changed. The negative impacts of cannabis prohibition -
organized crime and the wealth it accumulated not least among them -
began to become clear to both the public and law enforcement agencies
who had to direct massive amounts of resources to suppressing,
unsuccessfully, the illicit trade. It became clear that the public was
generally prepared to accept legalization of cannabis as a general
principle, and governments began to focus on potential revenue income
legalization could entail. Potential profits also seduced the kind of
legitimate corporate interest that politicians cannot afford to
ignore. The time seemed ripe for the fruit to fall and, rather
courageously, Young Justin grabbed the bull by the horns in his
initial national campaign and promised to change government policy if
elected. Stoners have been waiting with bat! ed breath ever since.

Not for the first time in their lives, stoners will be disappointed.
It is important to remember that the legalization of marijuana
represents more a change of approach by government rather than a
change of attitude. Now, the use of marijuana is being addressed as a
public health issue, rather than as a criminal one, with all the
delightful implications such an approach can mean. One need only
examine government attitudes towards tobacco, another legal substance,
to understand why some consumers aren't all that anxious to enjoy the
benefits of government management. Nor are any of those who have
clandestinely perfected cannabis culture over the decades likely to
reap the commercial benefits of their labour, as government
predilection for corporate participation has been made quite clear.

Moreover, the years have provided a lot more information regarding the
potential health risks of marijuana consumption. Some studies have
indicated that its regular use among young adults - whose brains are
apparently not quire developed until their early twenties - has been
linked to the emergence of schizophrenia and other mental health
issues. On the other hand, others indicate that it can have
significant benefits for those suffering from anxiety, seizures, some
forms of cancer and any number of heretofore untreatable ailments.

Although the federal government will assume the responsibility of
establishing quality controls and purity standards, it will be up to
the individual provinces to work out their own approaches as to
details - much as they currently do with regard to alcohol. Although
the federal government will declare 18 to be the minimum age
requirement, each province will be free to establish its own, as well
as their own regulations with regards to distribution, retails sales,
and taxation rates. Although this allows each jurisdiction the freedom
to establish its own regional set of rules, it also frees the federal
government of the expense and political consequences of enforcement.
It also opens the door to the kind of inter-provincial competition
that currently colours the trade in alcohol and tobacco.

The next generation of Canadians will grow up in a world where
cannabis is part of the norm and the variety of provincial regulations
will - like liquor boards - become traditional parts of the landscape.
They will not, however, see the free-for-all their more Woodstock era
great-grandparents envisaged. Oh well, we don't have flying cars yet
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt