Pubdate: Tue, 17 Oct 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tyler Dawson
Page: A8


Prohibition-era harms persist in heavily policed legal regime

"Sittin' downtown in a railway station," sing Brewer and Shipley, "one
toke over the line."

Well, you can't smoke in a railway station these days (not in Canada,
anyway). Or an office, a parkade or a barbershop. In Quebec, you can't
even smoke outside a pub, unless you're nine metres from the door.

Where, once marijuana is legal, will one be allowed to smoke? Ottawa's
bylaws, and the province's smoking laws, don't yet cover cannabis
since it's presently illegal, and the province hasn't been totally
consistent on what it's going to do come legalization.

But if the pseudo-prohibition in place for tobacco smoking in Ontario
is maintained for marijuana smoking - that is, very few places where
one can legally use a legal product - it will replicate the way
prohibition harms minority groups and those who aren't wealthy.

As it stands now, if you own your house, it could be in a state of
constant fumigation-by-cigarette. If you're a renter, it's really up
to the landlord to determine whether or not you can smoke, except for
common areas, where it's banned by provincial law.

When Ontario announced its pot plans last month, the province
suggested the same rules that apply to tobacco and alcohol will apply
to pot. So yes, you will be able to toke at home but no, you won't get
to smoke in a public park.

That said, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has also said the province is
considering special recreational pot use areas. This, to me, suggests
something like Amsterdam's coffee shops. Ontario should go that route;
anything else would be the wrong approach. In Quebec, there are
special bars where one can smoke cigars. This, of course, is a
sensible way to go, and something like that should happen with marijuana.

While meant to reduce the harms of criminal prohibition, the federal
and provincial Liberals' new pot regime will require a whole lot of
policing: raids on illicit pot shops, arresting black market dope
pedlars and confiscating pot from underage people.

Someone must also make sure the tokes aren't being had in railway
stations or public parks, which in turn means someone else will be
ticketed and fined or confronted by officers of the law. (Admittedly,
nothing may happen, and people will smoke where they please; people do
smoke cigarettes with a certain impunity in Ottawa's parks.)

If police are still going to bust down apartment doors to find plants
more than 100 centimetres tall or checking to make sure you don't have
more than 30 grams on you, the trends that define policing now aren't
going to go away with legalization. We know that cops treat black men
and Middle Eastern men differently than they do white men. Even after
legalization, in Colorado, black people were twice as likely as white
people to be arrested for smoking pot in public.

These trends could be replicated under Canada's new regulatory regime.
The lack of spaces to smoke is one obvious way folks will come into
contact with the law, an experience that's likely to vary by ethnicity
and class.

If you rent your apartment - as those with lower incomes are likely to
do - you don't have the freedom to smoke that you would if you were a
wealthy homeowner. That means you will either violate your apartment
rules (risking eviction) or smoke someplace else, a car (where you
could then get in trouble for drugged driving) or somewhere nice and
airy, like a park, which isn't likely to be allowed.

So even after legalization the practical restrictions of prohibition
will remain, at least for some Canadians, and so will some of the
consequences. Smoking spaces is one, small way, to avoid the harms of
the past.
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