Pubdate: Thu, 18 May 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Chris Selley
Page: A8


Legalizing pot shouldn't be this hard to get right

The move toward marijuana legalization is … still not as coherent as
it could be, let's say.

The Liberal legislation, unveiled last month, would establish rules
around THC-impaired driving that may well prove unconstitutional:
science has yet to establish a solid link between a given level of THC
concentration in a driver's blood or saliva and his level of impairment.

Frustratingly, there are still those who use this as an argument
against legalization - as if it would create pot-impaired drivers
where there are none today.

Last week on CTV's Question Period, host Evan Solomon asked former U.
S. ambassador Bruce Heyman what would happen if someone showed up to
the border with his car or his clothes smelling of marijuana. It's a
variation of a question asked often. As it stands, Canadians who admit
having smoked marijuana in the past are sometimes turned back. What
would happen after legalization?

The de facto answer is, as always: Whatever the hell the U. S. border 
guard in question wants to happen. ( It amazes me how many Canadians 
haven't figured t his out.) Furthermore: "Don't rock up to the U. S. 
border reeking of pot, you utterly unsympathetic tool."

The de jure answer: Well, who knows? Why would Canada's decision to
legalize marijuana have any bearing on the admissibility of foreign
pot-smokers to the United States of America?

Heyman's answers were more, er, nuanced than mine. Bafflingly, he
started talking about sniffer dogs and their performance limitations:
They won't care that pot's legal, so they'll still detect marijuana,
and that will bog down the border.

Now, marijuana legalization certainly might lead to a bogged-down
border - if humans, not canines, decide to bog it down. For example,
one can imagine Donald Trump thinking legalization necessitated much
more aggressive screening of incoming motorists, and not caring too
much about the trade implications. Whether that makes any sense is
another question.

The border doggos aren't going to smell more marijuana unless people
crossing the border bring them more marijuana or marijuana-smelling
things. No one is predicting a massive spike in marijuana consumption
under legalization.

And as for smugglers, there must be a few Americans dumb enough to
risk a federal conviction bringing a small quantity of heavily taxed
Canadian weed across the border, instead of risking little to nothing
by calling their guy when they got home. But a tightly regulated
retail marijuana market is simply not a plausible source for a surge
in cross-border pot traffic.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the move toward legislative reforms with
respect to illegal opioids is proceeding much more smoothly. The
debate over Bill C- 37, which would dramatically loosen restrictions
on safe-injection sites, has been admirably civilized. The Senate
Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs suggested some
defensible amendments, notably mandating safe-injection sites offer
"alternative pharmaceutical therapy" - methadone, for example, which
is used to wean addicts off heroin.

The government politely demurred, suggesting the law could stipulate a
safe-injection site "may" offer such treatment without tying health
care professionals' hands or restricting safe-injection sites to
locations that can prescribe drugs. Soon, more and more of the most
vulnerable Canadians suffering amid an astonishing opioid addiction
epidemic should have, at least, a safer place to suffer.

We have come a long way from the days when the perfect ran roughshod
over the good: the government must only encourage treatment and
recovery; to reduce the risk of drug abuse was to sanction it. That
argument has all but vanished from the political scene.

And there is potentially further to go: Health Canada has made it
easier for doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine - which is to say, to
prescribe heroin made by a pharmaceutical company instead of Some
Random Creep. It hasn't caused much controversy. Once you offer people
a place to shoot themselves full of unknown junk, maybe you offer them
something better than unknown junk.

As more and more Canadian families discovered just how nearly
impossible it is to impose treatment on someone who doesn't want it,
and for those who do want it to make it stick, perhaps it's natural
that this shift occurred. Thousands upon thousands of people from all
segments of society have died for want of someone to revive them when
they overdosed. The prospect of keeping them alive, at least, became
too compelling to ignore.

Marijuana is hardly a problem at all by comparison, of course. But
much of the logic is common to the two debates: recognizing the
futility of prohibition, acknowledging its harms and trying to
mitigate them, ensuring an unadulterated product.

It's vastly more important Ottawa get it right on opioids than on
marijuana; it's also much easier for Ottawa to get it right on
marijuana. It's maddening to contemplate how plausible an outcome
failure remains.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt