Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Campbell Clark
Page: A7


In parts of North America that once had influential temperance
movements, such as Mississippi or Ontario, it's still illegal to
advertise happy hour. Long after prohibition became passe, governments
haven't lost the urge to express disapproval for the willy-nilly sale
of intoxicants.

And so, when the Liberal government moves on Thursday to table
legislation to legalize cannabis, it's going to talk about controlling
and regulating and restricting - sending a signal marijuana is bad,
making sure it's sold without a lot of branding hoopla to limit the
dark arts of temptation, and especially emphasizing measures to stop
pot from falling into the hands of minors.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals can expect praise from those
who've dreamed of legalization, but politically, they want to reassure
those with doubts and they'd rather it didn't look like it will be
happy hour every day at 4:20.

And on the substance, being careful about the consequences and
minimizing the negative impacts is important: it's a big bold step.

But there's an important thing about all of those control measures,
from restricting branding to strict penalties for selling pot to
minors to work on detecting stoned driving, all of them will fail to
some degree. And the inevitable little failings of how pot is
legalized shouldn't overshadow the value of legalization.

The big thing is ending a policy that creates a multi-billion-dollar
black market and sees about 50,000 people a year arrested for
possessing marijuana - something almost half the population has done.

It's a step governments considered, and shelved, for decades. Pierre
Trudeau appointed the Le Dain Commission on drugs in 1969, and hinted
about legalizing marijuana before the administration of president
Richard Nixon protested. Joe Clark suggested he'd decriminalize pot in
1979, but never did, and then Ronald Reagan's "War on Drugs" made it a
taboo topic.

Jean Chretien's government actually tabled a bill to decriminalize
marijuana in 2003, seven before months Mr. Chretien stepped down, but
didn't rush to pass it. Paul Martin revived the bill, but worried abut
the politics, and it died with the 2004 election.

One can still cite all kinds of problems. The White House doesn't love
it. U.S. border guards have, in a few cases, refused entry to
Canadians who admitted smoking marijuana, though pot is now legal in
eight states and decriminalized in more. Legalizing marijuana violates
a 1961 anti-drug treaty. The police are concerned about stoned driving
- - a legitimate problem, but not one that begins with

But the damage from doing nothing is worse. It starts with the arrest
and prosecution of tens of thousands for doing something that, by
their own actions, Canadians have widely accepted is okay. The 2012
Canadian Community Health Survey found 43 per of Canadians over 15 had
tried marijuana - if you exclude minors and seniors, it's a majority.
Yet roughly 50,000 a year are still arrested for possessing marijuana,
a drug that's less lethal than alcohol, and about half of them
charged. In a typical year, 10,000-15,000 of those possession cases
involve teens.

The NDP, which campaigned on decriminalizing, rather than legalizing
marijuana, complains that people are still being charged - suggesting
decriminalization would have been quicker. But that wouldn't crack
another massive problem with criminal pot: it creates a black market
that the government estimates generates $7-billion to $10-billion a
year, and that funds a lot of gangsters with guns.

But there's still that persistent fear that legalization will send the
wrong signal, especially to teens, that smoking pot is okay.

That's part of the reason the Liberals are expected to set
restrictions on marketing marijuana, tighter even than on tobacco -
aimed at trying to prevent the kind of lifestyle ads used to make
alcohol seem like the start of all good times. Tobacco companies once
advertised freely, and when governments set restrictions, Big Tobacco
pushed the envelope, even apparently aiming products at teens. The
Liberals will want pot producers to start on a tight leash.

But it won't all work. Some teenagers will get pot. They do now. Some
will obtain pot from government-licensed producers. The government
can't control everything and it will probably make mistakes. But
marijuana isn't controlled now, it's just punished. And the big thing
is stopping the damage that causes.
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MAP posted-by: Matt