Pubdate: Fri, 14 Apr 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Rosie DiManno
Page: A2


Tell me what is the difference between a gangster in a stairwell and a
licensed retailer in a pot shop?

I mean, if you get down to the nub of the thing, it's all just
window-dressing, pretending that one is less exploitive than the other.

The retailer will be taxed, although none of those head-banging
details were included in the marijuana legalization bills tabled by
the federal government Thursday. The illegal dealer will be charged,
most harshly if selling to a minor, under new Criminal Code provisions.

There is a strong harm-reduction argument to be made for
decriminalizing dope, a contention I would extend to the whole sweep
of life-ruining drugs, if our collective emphasis were placed on
health rather than punishment. Why not eliminate the consequences of
addiction for crack and cocaine and heroin in measures that would
remove users from the pernicious impact of traffickers also? Except we
know, from countries such as Norway which have gone down that road -
at least to the extent police don't apply laws on the books where
users traditionally congregate - that addiction rates escalate when
there's no police interdiction.

There seems no right or wrong answer to the broader dilemma of wasted
lives, which often tilt into prostitution and other crimes to support
the habit.

Just as there was no consensus of pleasing the sides on Canada's
cannabis law when the package was revealed in Ottawa, legalizing pot
for those over 18.

To the reefer advocates - not just recreational users but the
merchants of dope, which now include big-time entrepreneurs who've
already invested huge capital to tee up legal production facilities
once the restraints come off - the bill has been condemned as
Criminalization 2.0. Opponents have slammed the undertaking as
woefully ill-advised, essentially stripping the deterrence factor away
from a substance that frequently is embraced as an entryway to drug
use, especially by young people, in a country that has one of the
highest marijuana consumption rates on the planet. Teenagers in Canada
use cannabis more than any other developed nation in the world - 28
per cent admitting to it in an extensive poll conducted by the World
Health Organization four years ago.

These are young males and females whose brains are still developing,
as the medical establishment has repeatedly warned. There definitely
are cognitive impacts of heavy marijuana intake. Just as there are
heavy consequences borne by families trying to steer their kids away
from drugs.

The ministers who sat on that podium in Ottawa on Thursday repeatedly
asserted that the bill's intention is protecting children and keeping
communities safe.

"This is a very important day," said MP Bill Blair, Toronto's former
police chief and the Liberal government's point-man on the dope file.

"I've spent most of my adult life protecting children and keeping
communities safe. From experience, I know that use of cannabis among
our young people is among the highest in the world. I believe that we
have to do a better job of protecting our kids.

"I'm also aware from four decades of police work that this is a
business overwhelmingly controlled by organized crime. And the profits
of that criminal enterprise do no good in any of our

Yet now the government - federally and provincially, when the latter
hashes out the jurisdictional finer points - will step in and assume
the trafficking role, raking tax profits off pot distribution,
extending the bureaucratic sin tax structure imposed on booze and
cigarettes while attempting (in vain, I say) to take the moral high
ground, as if there were some distinction between the profits of, say,
a biker gang moving product to the street and registered

I don't see it. The whole of the piece sends a message that pot isn't
so bad; if you're an adult it's not bad at all. That's a posture that
will simply encourage youth to smoke and toke and bong, even if the
legislation is intended to keep marijuana away from them while further
penalizing those who sell it to the underaged or using them for
trafficking purposes.

As this rough legalization bill has been presented, it was clearly not
ready for prime-time unveiling, incoherent, defying comprehension much
less application, all the relevant bits and pieces that the government
claims will be resolved by the time the legislation becomes law, with
a target date of 15 months hence.

Here's but one hanging loose detail: What will become of those
currently facing pot possession charges since police have continued
charging suspected offenders in the year since Justin Trudeau's
Liberals announced legalization was coming? Suspicion of possession
routinely leads to arrests and further charges arising from searches
because cops like to charge large. Will those searches be deemed
retroactively illegal by the courts? Federal prosecutors have yet to
indicate either way.

According to the latest Statistics Canada research (2014 figures), a
pot possession charge is laid every nine minutes in Canada. Charges
under the Conservative government jumped 30 per cent between 2000 and
2014. With our clogged courts and judicial delays, thousands of
charges are still moving through our sluggish justice system, millions
of dollars spent on prosecution and defence lawyers. Will they be left
in legal limbo? Hardly makes any Charter Rights sense. Doubtless there
will also be constitutional objections over mandatory roadside saliva
testing, especially since we're not yet at a point where such oral
fluid screen devices for cannabis can be definitely trusted. Nor do we
know where the government will set the level for blowing high.

"We have with this bill, if it passes Parliament . . . one of the
strongest impaired driving pieces of legislation in the world,"
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould claimed. "I am confident of the
constitutionality of roadside testing." Many are not. Many are of the
view that the government doesn't have a clue what it's doing, except
allowing Trudeau to keep a campaign promise when just about every
other avowal he made on the electioneering trail has turned to ashes.
How much will 30 grams of pot - the legal limit - cost? Who determines
the price? And once that price is established, how in the world will
law enforcement stave off the attractiveness of a cheaper version,
generic dope, offered by dealers? This is precisely the mess that has
made contraband cigarettes into a billion-dollar black market industry
in Canada.

Will you be able to smoke pot anywhere? Because, unlike alcohol, there
is a contact high to marijuana fumes. Can you toke in a public park?
Outside the Air Canada Centre? Some of us already have to hold our
breath just getting to the front door of our homes.

Look, I get and agree that adults should be allowed to smoke dope,
grow dope, be as entirely dopey about dope as they wish. What I
adamantly reject is the mythical magic of marijuana as a
mind-expanding substance. It is profoundly dulling, stupefying. I've
yet to meet a sharp-cookie chronic pot user. But go ahead, be my
guest. (Though not if you're a guest at my house.)

Far more troubling is the fallout for use among teens. They won't -
and certainly shouldn't be - charged as young offenders for
possession. That's not the crux of the thing.

>From the voluminous research on the subject, we are well aware of the
physical and mental implications of marijuana use on developing brains
- - the very structure of those brains, which continue to develop until
one's mid 20s.

Physicians and pediatricians are well aware that functional changes in
the brain, impacted by chronic pot use, affect planning and memory.
There is evidence brains have to work harder to overcome the damage of
cannabis consumption. And a lot of those adolescent noodles impacted
by pot are already overburdened in the functioning department - the
poor scholastic performance that so often drives teenagers to further
delinquent behaviour.

It's a downward spiral, with one in seven teenagers progressing to
chronic pot use; physical and psychological addiction and an increased
risk of some kind of psychotic outcome for regular dopers.

Reducing drug addiction: fat chance.

Disrupting gang trafficking: fat chance.

Making communities safer: fat chance.

Protecting our kids: fat chance.

That's the skinny on this slapdash bill.
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MAP posted-by: Matt