During Harper’s nine year reign as Canada’s Prime Minister, the federal government pushed for more severe, and punitive measures to prevent the use and distribution of marijuana in Canada. Harper’s long held beliefs are that marijuana is on the same level of “hard drugs” such as heroine, cocaine, and meth and is cited saying that marijuana is ‘infinitely worse’ than tobacco and that “pot users are criminals”. Prohibition and increased police involvement on both the municipal and provincial levels are what the Conservative Party of Canada believes to be the best method to curb marijuana use and trafficking; but the data suggests otherwise. Since Harper’s to power in the beginning of 2006, the offences for marijuana possession, growing, and trafficking have steadily risen, accounting to 78,000 arrests alone in 2011; almost 70% of all drug offences in Canada. For a drug which “an estimated 43% of Canadians aged 15 or older” have tried and 12.2% of the population have used in 2012 alone; the methodology and scope for marijuana prohibition certainly aren’t applicable for the growing portion of Canadian citizens who do engage in the drug’s use. However, Justin Trudeau’s election into parliamentary office could mark the end of Canada’s war on cannabis, and the beginning of a working legalization model for the sticky icky.
The case for marijuana legalization is multi-faceted. To start off, the drug itself is far from harmful (relative to other legalized drugs). The medicinal and health benefits resulting from its use have been documented in various studies. The ability to slow the development and progression of Alzheimer’s, the relieving of arthritis discomfort, and the benefit of supporting military veterans in PTSD recovery are just some of the gains available to be had with its consumption. But the biggest boon for marijuana use is the fact that it provides an alternative to alcohol consumption. It’s a scientific fact that “cannabis is demonstrably safer than alcohol” yet it isn’t treated the same as alcohol, not even in the same vein. Naysayers who point out marijuana’s negatives rarely make the same comparison to alcohol. Alcohol, of which the production, distribution, sale and taxation are managed by the government as an answer to the failed era of prohibition of the early 1920s; provides a much higher social and health cost than marijuana, yet enjoys all the benefits of a controlled substance. The same argument can be realized against tobacco. If history has given us its answer to the effectiveness of prohibition as a method for drug control, why do we still contemporary apply it? Especially in the face of a less harmful drug such as pot? The taxation and regulation of alcohol has provided tax revenue, eliminated the existence of its black market demand, and ensures the production of a safer and higher quality product. Colorado, which has just recently legalized marijuana in 2014, has benefited from “at least $70 million [in tax revenue] [in the] last fiscal year alone”, almost twice that of alcohol taxation. Canada’s loss of potential tax revenue from marijuana is estimated to be at $7.5 billion dollars a year, assuming it’s legalized nationwide. In the very least, we can expect a boon if Colorado’s legalization model were to be followed.
The next issue lies in the face of marijuana’s existence as a “black market” drug. Marijuana’s current status gives rise to organized crime; where the production and distribution is done methodologically with respect to profit by gangs. Not only would marijuana’s legalization take away the profit that these organized syndicates make, it would also take away the conflict and violence that these groups produce in order to protect their grow-ops and distribution territory. Another negative to be had with lumping marijuana with real “hard drugs” is that you expose the black market buyer to these “hard drugs”. Organized crime groups that exclusively sell marijuana are rarely the norm; by making marijuana only available through illicit channels the powers that be are promoting civilian interaction with these criminal groups and their exposure to “hard” addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin. With the current youth usage figures as high as they are, it’s neither pragmatic nor “moral” as Harper argues, to continue with marijuana’s prohibition. Taking away power from gangs would not only lower organized gang violence, but it “could free up officers to address other issues”, and the “opportunity could shift to other drugs”. Decriminalization would also free up the judicial system and streamline it for actual criminal cases, which would in turn free up tax revenue that’s spent on incarcerating marijuana offenders to be spent on things that would benefit from the low value of the CAD; such as infrastructure. The estimated cost of marijuana control and prohibition is at around $300 to $500 million per year, with the average cost of imprisonment at around $113,880 per person per year. All of that tax payer revenue could, and should; be invested into more worthwhile projects and programs.
Opponents against marijuana legalization raise arguments that suggest a moral panic. If the government were to legalize marijuana, everybody and their mother would be lazy, apathetic, and a drain on society. Everybody would start to blaze, and then move on to “harder” drugs through the gateway drug of marijuana. It’s arguable that the legalization of a drug would imply a certain the loosening and the denigration of morals. To quote John Stuart Mill regarding the ethics of legislation, “it is proper that I forego any advantage which could be derived from the idea of abstract right as a thing of independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.” Essentially, laws should not appeal to emotional or morality, but seek to produce the greatest amount of functional social utility while protecting our liberty and freedoms. The fallacious slippery slope argument that opponents raise simply do not apply in the real world; given previous knowledge and the legality of worse drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are both legal and regulated, but not everyone drinks or smokes. If marijuana were to be legalized, there’s nothing to suggest that everyone will start lighting up on the weekend or smoking a bowl after work. In fact, the opposite is true. “Countries adopting a more liberal [marijuana] policy have, for the most part, rates of usage lower than ours, which stabilized after a short period growth.” With the current amount of research presenting marijuana’s medicinal qualities, the benignity of its dangers, and the socioeconomic implications of its legalization; there should be no reason to keep operating it under prohibition.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on marijuana legalization and drug legalization as a whole! Please leave any question or comments that you many have and I’ll try to get back to them.