June 16, 2016

Canada should legalize marijuana -- but not stop there

Bryan KapitzaRebel Blogger

Our national effort to eradicate illicit drug use has proven itself to be an expensive failure. Drug addiction has never been a significant problem in Canada but we continue to expend enormous financial and social resources in prosecuting users and creating a market for suppliers -- all to no avail.

The criminalization of drugs was spearheaded by Mackenzie King in 1908. While on a trip to Vancouver following the "Anti-Oriental Riots" of 1907, he came into contact with several members of the fairer sex under the influence of opium. The purpose of his Opium Act was to protect these vulnerable white Christian women from falling under the control of Chinese gangsters. The uncontrolled sale of opiates had never been a problem in Canada, but moral outrage, fueled by racism, led to its criminalization and gave the government an excuse to halt Asian immigration. It also facilitated the creation of a black market.

In 1923, Canada added marijuana to the schedule of proscribed drugs. Its inclusion, however, is a historical mystery.  Rampant marijuana usage was not a social problem, and the Department of Health did not consider it a public threat. Nor is there any record of debate concerning the bill in either the House or Senate. Most likely it was simply added by the Minister or a bureaucrat as an acknowledgment to the demands of the growing temperance movement.

The laws concerning drug use became stricter in the 1960s and 70s as older citizens sought to exert control over the rebelliousness of the hippy generation. Politicians were fearful that an entire generation would turn into unproductive potheads. President Ronald Reagan ratcheted up penalties again in the early 1980s as a way to secure votes from the Religious Right.

With each increase in criminalization there was a corresponding increase in crime and incarceration and no reduction in usage.

The crime and destitution that we have come to associate with the drug trade and usage is entirely of our own making. By criminalizing addiction, we have created a situation of low supply and high demand. We have incentivized anti-social behavior as suppliers attempt to meet the needs of dependent users. 

The promise of Trudeau's Liberal government to legalize and regulate marijuana is a step in the right direction. It follows the recommendation of numerous committees starting with the Le Dain Commission of 1969-72. Addicts will no longer be incarcerated for simple possession, thereby saving millions in court and prison costs. Production of marijuana will be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, adding millions of tax dollars to the public treasury.

As a nation, however, we can go a step further. We can legalize and regulate opiates and other hard drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy for the same reasons. Our resources can then be directed at treatment of those who wish to get clean.

At the very least we can follow the Portuguese example of the decriminalization of small amounts of hard drugs -- that is, we can remove such drug offenses from criminal court. Since its implementation in 2001, the number of addicts in Portugal has declined, as has the number of deaths, disease and crime that stemmed from drug use.

The criminalization of drugs is an over-reaction to a non-existent threat.  It is a misplaced moral crusade that punishes those that need help. The empirical evidence, the only sort that should matter when making decisions of public policy, clearly shows that decriminalization and/or legalization will be of benefit to all Canadians. Government should act on this as quickly as possible.

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commented 2016-06-20 13:38:08 -0400
If Prohibition was a failure why wouldn’t this be?
commented 2016-06-16 23:06:45 -0400
David, I’m not sure I get part of what you said. “self-restraint is the very discipline that a society often lacks, and Libertarianism has no answer for” My understanding of libertarianism is that self-restraint is the core of it. We don’t need the government or any other outside agency telling us what we can and cannot do. I have raped and killed to my heart’s content, which is zero, not because some government or religion told me not to but because I restrain myself from doing so. (Extreme argument, I know, but it should get the point across) Also, this argument’s other flaw is that libertarianism doesn’t allow for crimes against people or property, but if you’re doing something on your own time with your own dime and it doesn’t affect anyone who doesn’t want to be then it’s none of the government’s business. I assume that’s the core of your statement – that such personal “extremes” could lead to actual crimes against people or property. But, as I said, I think they do have an answer for it. You can do whatever you want, include stuff barbituates up your ass, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. When your addiction turns violent, you turn to petty crime to pay for it, your bad decisions lead to high medical costs in the future; then the government has a say in it. Maybe. I admit there are aspects of that party’s platform I’m not 100% sure of, but I think that’s the gist of it. It sounds like they do have an answer, though. I don’t automatically assume that a protracted libertarian system would devolve into libertinism. As far as your seatbelt/crack analogy; not wearing a seatbelt will pretty much guarantee some injury in case of an accident whereas a person could possibly smoke crack his whole life and not cause any injury to himself or others. You don’t have to be a crackhead to enjoy an unbridled lack of restraint. Look at Milo Y.
commented 2016-06-16 20:04:59 -0400
“Our national effort to eradicate illicit drug use has proven itself to be an expensive failure. <=> but we continue to expend enormous financial and social resources in prosecuting users and creating a market for suppliers — all to no avail.”

Yeah banning drugs worked so well, let’s try it with guns and tobacco and see what happens – I’m sure it will be different this time because super-intellect Liberals are doing it. Snort!
commented 2016-06-16 13:09:33 -0400
The only kind of restraint that doesn’t inhibit freedom is self-restraint. And yet, self-restraint is the very discipline that a society often lacks, and Libertarianism has no answer for. As a net result, libertarian tendencies fade into mere libertinism, causing bonafide authority to exercise its legal right to legislate. Once again, the moral problem isn’t answered by either legislation or its absence— but can anyone imagine a Canada where NOT wearing a seatbelt (restraint) is illegal, but snorting crack (unbridled lack of restraint) isn’t?
commented 2016-06-16 11:37:31 -0400
Well, at least it should be decriminalized for offences of carrying up to one ounce. That would free up the legal system from most of the petty charges. As for full legalization, I remain unconvinced.