Pubdate: Sat, 03 Feb 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Shree Paradkar
Page: A3


"Entrepreneurial" is one of the terms used to describe a bunch of
Canadian bootleggers who found varying success in the illicit running
of alcohol to the U.S. about a century ago.

They are portrayed as swashbuckling adventurers who dared to defy laws
that banned alcohol, laws that in retrospect were not only archaic but
perhaps misplaced and costly. They are fondly posited as cheeky and
rebellious, the forerunners of a liberal era of alcohol-infused pleasures.

It was legal in Canada to produce alcohol - prohibition was lifted by
the 1920s - while Americans still faced a ban. That illicit trade was
the building blocks on which Canadian distilleries, the suppliers of
that booze, made a fortune. The histories of the Bronfman family (who
owned Seagram) and the Corbys, among others, are just a Google search

During the "roaring twenties," says the official Bay of Quinte
website, many a Canadian lad . . . risked his life during this time
for the daring and dangerous life of bootlegging."

No such indulgent descriptors - or profits - appear to await the
forerunners of a Liberal era of cannabis-infused pleasures.

As the banned substance begins to burgeon into a multi-billion-dollar
industry, the once-petty crooks, many of them Black, with the
grassroots know-how of how to run the business and who could become
contributing members of society, are once again being shut out because
they have criminal records.

The government has talked about amnesty for past marijuana crimes that
would mean erasure of those records. But it is unlikely to take any
action until after legalization - and already, others with money have
plunked their grubby fingers in this pie to make more money.

This includes, of course, that shameless hypocrite and former chief of
multiple police forces Julian Fantino, who helped passed into law Bill
C-10, which included mandatory minimum sentences for people having as
few as six plants.

On Friday, The Canadian Press reported that a group of frustrated
lawyers in Toronto is considering a class-action lawsuit against the
government to push it into granting cannabis amnesty. They should just
do it. Some advocates are also seeking an apology.

A reckoning of the unfairness with which anything related to marijuana
has been treated is a long time coming.

Even the usage of the word marijuana - which comes from Mexico - came
into being during the Prohibition Era to warn off Americans by
appealing to their xenophobic sensibilities with the suggestion that
it could lead to the intermingling of races.

In Canada, too, marijuana has proven handy as a system of racial
control. In July last year, the Star published an analysis of 10 years
of Toronto police data - including two years when Fantino was police
chief - to show that Black people with no history of criminal
convictions were three times more likely to be arrested for possession
of small amounts of marijuana than white people.

The users are Black and white at about equal rates, but the people
behind bars are disproportionately Black.

More recently, the American experience shows that even in states where
the plant is legalized, while overall numbers of arrests have
plummeted, Blacks are still arrested at higher rates.

Four times higher in Washington, D.C., 10 times higher in

 From Richard Nixon's so-called "war on drugs" to Ronald Reagan's drug
war to Bill Clinton's "tough on crime" laws, the crackdown on drugs
has always been an assault on race.

The scholar Michelle Alexander points out in her seminal book The New
Jim Crow that Nixon's White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman
recalled that Nixon "emphasized that you have to face the fact that
the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system
that recognizes this while not appearing to."

The Reagan administration created an indelible link between drug abuse
and Black people, Alexander wrote in HuffPost. It hired staff whose
responsibility it was "to publicize inner-city crack babies, crack
mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence."

Clinton's policies wrought the highest increase in the number of
people imprisoned.

But a change was coming. The face of drug users in the public
imagination was getting lighter-skinned. Think Breaking Bad. Ozark.

"Changing attitudes and policies became possible in large part because
the media was no longer saturated with images of Black and brown drug
dealers," Alexander said at a Drug Policy Reform conference in 2017.
"The colour of drug users and dealers got whiter in the public
imagination, and so we, as a nation, got nicer."

Nicer in Canada would mean erasing criminal records without a fight,
the flawed structure of the RCMP's national criminal record database
notwithstanding. That database can show whether someone has a record
for possessing an illegal drug, but not necessarily which one,
according to a report in Global News.

"That means that erasing marijuana possession (or trafficking) records
could turn into a painstaking, manual process, involving searches in
court and police archives across the country."

No reason why people imprisoned for petty crimes should pay for the
carelessness of those trafficking in power.
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