HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Insulting U.S. Rhetoric Overshadows Real
Pubdate: Sat, 14 Dec 2002
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal


Treating Drug Use Like a Parking Offence Sends a Disturbing Message

The U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy could use a little lesson in
reverse psychology. The news that Canada is considering
decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana has sent the folks
there into a tizzy.

"It's not my job to judge Canadian policy," John Walters, the U.S.
drug czar, said this week. "But it is my job to protect Americans from
dangerous threats, and right now Canada is a dangerous staging area
for some of the most potent and dangerous marijuana at a time when
marijuana is the single biggest source of dependency production in the
United States."

Robert Maginnis, a U.S. drug policy adviser, went further. In an
interview with CBC Newsworld, he said decriminalization could damage
"already strained" relations between Canada and the U.S.

Drug sales, said Maginnis, fund terrorism. If Canada decriminalized
marijuana, he hinted, it might make Americans think Canada favoured

Decriminalization, he said, could lead to trade and travel sanctions.

"We're going to have to clamp down even stronger on our border if you
liberalize and contribute to what we consider a drug tourism problem,"
he said. "I don't want to get to the point where we're calling for a
boycott of Canadian products."

It's enough to tempt even a straight old prude like me to rush out and
get a hemp plant for my window sill.

An official U.S. boycott of Canadian exports? Ever heard of NAFTA,
GATT and the WTO, boys? It's all a lot of overheated rhetoric, but
even the insinuation that Canada favours terrorism, that fining
recreational pot users instead of throwing them in jail would give aid
and comfort to Osama bin Laden, is insulting beyond belief or retort.
If the U.S. wanted to goad us into decriminalization, they could
scarcely have picked a better tactic.

Which is a shame, since before we rush to put pot plants on every
porch, we should think long and hard about the social implications of
our actions.

The libertarian in me knows prohibition of vice rarely limits people's
desire to indulge. It just creates market opportunity for criminals.

The state can't legislate morality. When it tries, the results are
usually heavy-handed and ineffectual. If people want to drink or smoke
or drop acid or throw their money into VLTs or eat only high-fat junk
food, far be it from me to stop them.

Everyone has the inalienable freedom to go to the devil in whichever
way they choose. Pot use is so blatant these days, you can smell the
stuff at almost any public gathering.

Police can't realistically enforce simple possession laws. That turns
huge segments of our population into scofflaws, who've learned that
laws can be broken with impunity when they're inconvenient.

And yet, the righteous part of me despairs. Drugs are not morally
neutral. They are not jolly lifestyle accessories.

They all, including alcohol and marijuana, have the potential to trap
people in addiction and despair. They prey on the vulnerable. People
who suffer from clinical depression, anxiety and other mental
illnesses frequently use intoxicants and stimulants, legal or not, to
self-medicate. People whose lives are bleak and hard use drugs to
escape their problems. But the drugs are no cure and no escape. The
promise they hold out is an illusion. At best, they offer a temporary
diversion from reality. At worst, they destroy the bodies and minds
and hearts of those they possess. A society that relies on intoxicants
and stimulants to prop up its sense of well-being is sick to its soul.

Prohibition doesn't work. Stop or slow the influx of imported cocaine
into a community and dealers and users turn to homegrown drugs such as
crystal meth. Jail all the members of gang "A" and gang "B" will jump
in to fill the market void.

Yet when we say smoking pot is no different than being five minutes
late to plug the parking meter, I fear we send a disturbing message,
particularly to our children. Drug use should not be socially
validated. It should not be depicted as harmless, wholesome fun.

We need to view drug abuse as a public health problem, more than a
criminal one. We can't reduce supply. We can only reduce demand. And
we can do that only by helping people, especially our children, build
healthy, happy, hopeful lives which don't need to be propped up
artificially. Then, if they choose to use, they're making a real, free
choice. That's a hell of a bigger job than busting grow operations and
meth labs.

But there's no better time to start than now. 
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