HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Murphy Campaigned Against 'Marijuana Menace'
Pubdate: Fri, 05 Mar 2004
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Randy Boswell, CanWest News Service
Cited: Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy


Edmonton Crusader Blamed for Pot Prohibition

When MPs finally rise to vote, as long expected, in favour of
liberalizing Canada's marijuana laws, they can expect to feel a slight
rumble of anger beneath their feet.

On the east lawn of Parliament Hill, no further from the House of
Commons than a sweet-smelling smoke ring might float in an Ottawa
breeze, stands a towering statue of Emily Murphy, clad in sensible
shoes and hat, one of her arms extended in a typically dramatic
oratorical gesture.

Murphy -- best known for her role as leader of the Famous Five
champions of the rights of Canadian women -- also spearheaded an
anti-narcotics campaign in the 1920s that would profoundly influence
national drug policies. In fact, the crusading Edmonton magistrate and
journalist is widely credited with, and widely blamed for, initiating
Canada's prohibition on pot 80 years ago.

Critics say the country's war on weed was prompted by little more than
a racist, erroneous, sexed-up dossier on a non-existent marijuana
"menace" -- a 1922 essay penned by Murphy with help from a seemingly
delusional Los Angeles police chief.

"It's galling to hear groups who support prohibition argue that there
must have been a sound reason for criminalizing this drug in the first
place," says Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer with the Ottawa-based Canadian
Foundation for Drug Policy.

"There was no such thing."

The Liberal government intends to decriminalize small-time pot use and
to toughen the law against commercial growers and dealers.

Bill C-10, introduced in the House of Commons in February, would make
the possession of up to 15 grams of pot and up to three marijuana
plants punishable by tickets and fines of $100-to-$500.

A prominent Alberta suffragette and social activist, Murphy was the
first female magistrate appointed in the Commonwealth. She was also a
prolific writer, churning out four books and scores of magazine
articles under the pen name Janey Canuck.

A series of her stories on the drug menace in Canada was published in
Maclean's in 1920. Two years later, her writings were compiled in a book,
The Black Candle, which included a chapter called "Marahuana: A New Menace."

The book relied heavily on comments Murphy solicited from police
chiefs across North America. And the response she received from the
head of the Los Angeles force -- quoted as proof of marijuana's
"poison" -- is now thought a classic piece of paranoiac propaganda.

"Charles A. Jones, the Chief of Police for the city," wrote Murphy,
"said in a recent letter that hashish, or Indian hemp, grows wild in
Mexico but to raise this shrub in California constitutes a violation
of the State Narcotic law. He says, 'Persons using this narcotic,
smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving
them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral
responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under its influence, are
immune to pain, and could be severely injured without having any
realization of their condition. While in this condition they become
raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of
violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty
without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.' "

There's still a dash of mystery as to why marijuana was added --
seemingly at the last minute and with almost no paper trail -- to a
list of drugs outlawed by the federal government in 1923. But most
scholars believe the publication of Murphy's book prompted the ban,
and activists pushing today to decriminalize pot tend to paint Murphy
- - heroine of the landmark Person's Case for Canadian women's rights
- - as a villain in the realm of drug policy.

"She's looked at as an object of derision," says Oscapella. "This
woman was probably single-handedly responsible for the demonization --
and the criminal convictions -- of hundreds of thousands of Canadians
over the years. Her writings were profoundly racist -- a very, very
vitriolic, racist diatribe that had absolutely no basis whatsoever in

Decriminalization advocates blame Murphy for inspiring decades of
misguided policies in which tough marijuana laws have functioned as "a
solution without a problem."

In 1961, at a time when the drug was still barely in use in Canada,
the Narcotic Control Act made simple possession of marijuana
punishable by up to seven years in prison. By the end of that decade,
as smoking up was an everyday symbol of youth rebellion and more than
10,000 Canadians a year were being arrested for possessing pot.

The meteoric rise in the number of young citizens with criminal
records began to force a rethink of marijuana laws. A 1972 report by
the federal Le Dain Commission concluded the criminal prohibition on
pot was a serious case of overkill, and urged immediate reforms.

But nothing had been done by the 1980s, by which time the U.S.-led war
on drugs dimmed the prospect of decriminalizing marijuana in Canada.
Not until recent years, when some Canadian courts began backing the
rights of recreational users and the public rallied behind promoters
of medical marijuana, did politicians begin warming to the idea of
liberalizing the law.

In September 2002, a Senate committee led by Pierre Claude Nolin
reached a historic conclusion: marijuana, their final report
concluded, should not just be decriminalized and subject to petty
fines, but legalized altogether.

The shock of that might have been enough to jolt the bronze Emily
Murphy back to life and send her clanking up the steps of Parliament.
But the bill now set to be passed -- not quite an endorsement of her
"weed of madness" but a step closer to its acceptance -- will no doubt
leave her quietly seething.
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