HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Fanatics With A Badge
Pubdate: Thu, 04 Mar 2004
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Ottawa Citizen
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


The philosopher George Santayana famously defined fanaticism as
"redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." It's a
fitting description of a conference held this week at which officials
and police discussed the next battle in the endless war on marijuana.

Co-hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and the Ontario
sociation of Chiefs of Police, the conference specifically targeted
marijuana "grow-ops," a lucrative business the police say is booming
and making gangsters rich. Imagine for a moment that all the scary
stories about grow-ops are true (we have our doubts about some of the
more alarmist claims). How should we respond?

The police say there has to be a major crackdown. Punishments must be
made tougher, they say, perhaps even passing mandatory minimum
sentences -- a drastic step the criminal law generally avoids. And, no
surprise, more money must be given to the police to pay for stricter

In other words -- to put this in Santayana's terms -- the police want
to redouble the effort against the marijuana trade. Fine. But what is
the aim?

Both the police and Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter seem to be
saying the aim is to shut down the grow-ops, or at least get them out
of residential neighbourhoods.

This seems reasonable enough, given that grow-ops undeniably present a
fire hazard due to illegal wiring. And they attract criminals who find
ripping off grow-ops a lucrative business in itself.

What proponents of the get-tough strategy fail to acknowledge,
however, is that grow-ops are in residential neighbourhoods because
marijuana is illegal. Nor do they admit that the quickest way to get
grow-ops out of neighbourhoods is to legalize, license and regulate
marijuana production -- exactly what a Senate Special Committee
recommended in September, 2002.

A House of Commons Special Committee was more timid on the subject,
but even it recommended decriminalizing the growing of small amounts
of marijuana for personal use as a way of reducing the incentive
criminals have to set up pot factories.

Neither the police nor the Ontario government will even mull over such
ideas, insisting the only way to go is to redouble their efforts. In
other words, the criminal law will solve the problem the criminal law

Not only is this response logically absurd, it also indicates the
authorities have forgotten why marijuana was criminalized in the first
place. When the ban was imposed in 1923, the purpose wasn't to get pot
production out of residential neighbourhoods -- it wasn't in
neighbourhoods then -- but to eliminate the marijuana supply.

Making Canada marijuana-free was the aim of every bust and every
uprooting of a plant. Billions of dollars have been spent in pursuit
of that aim, millions of people have been arrested and millions of
plants have been uprooted. But Canada's marijuana supply has only
grown and grown. There are few, if any, police officers today who
really think they can wipe out the marijuana supply.

Using the criminal law to deal with this problem isn't working. Since
police and politicians have forgotten the original aim of the law, yet
still want to redouble their efforts, they're perfect examples of
Santayana's fanatics.
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