RM Issue #030715
Friday, July 11, 2003
Like most Canadians, we supported Ottawa's recent move to decriminalize marijuana. Pot is less dangerous and addictive than either alcohol or tobacco, and the war against marijuana ruins more lives, and costs more, than the drug itself. In fact, recent developments suggest decriminalization isn't enough: Outright legalization may be in order.
In January, an Ontario judge ruled that Ottawa needed to do more to put marijuana into the hands of sick patients who use the drug for therapeutic purposes. Health Canada had started granting permission to a few hundred Canadians to grow their own pot, or arrange for another person to grow it for them. But the court found this inadequate: Growing marijuana is difficult, and is often beyond the means of sick individuals or their caregivers. Moreover, because there is no legal retail marijuana source in Canada, participants in the program looking to buy marijuana plants had to turn to the black market.
Two weeks ago, an Ontario appellate court dismissed an attempt by Health Canada to have the January ruling reversed. This decision means the government must begin distributing the marijuana its own researchers have grown in an abandoned Manitoba mine. Ottawa finds itself in the strange position of being a de facto pot dealer.
This status quo cannot last. Therapeutic marijuana is used to palliate a range of conditions, including glaucoma, epilepsy and the severe nausea associated with chemotherapy and AIDS wasting syndrome. Users typically report different results from different varieties of marijuana, so it is doubtful whether the government's crop will be suitable for all. Marijuana is a chemically complex substance and only a free-market solution can supply therapeutic users with the variety and quality they seek.
Second, it seems wrong as a matter of economics for the federal government to be a drug industry monopolist -- just as it is wrong for provincial governments in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and elsewhere to be booze industry monopolists. When the state gets involved in the sale of state- regulated substances, inefficiencies and conflicts of interest inevitably abound. In the long run, it makes more sense for pot to be treated like tobacco or prescription drugs -- regulated, but not sold by, the government.
When the medicinal marijuana movement gained traction and legitimacy in the late '90s, legalization opponents predicted it was the thin edge of the wedge, and that legalization of the drug for recreational purposes would soon follow. They were right -- for two reasons. First, the issue of therapeutic marijuana has created a sense of urgency in regard to drug reform: It is inhumane to deprive AIDS and cancer sufferers of an effective means of pain relief for a day longer than necessary. Second, by bringing a sympathetic, politically active class of marijuana smokers into the public spotlight, therapeutic marijuana has helped debunk the image of pot users as Cheech- and-Chong-style stoners.
The result is that public acceptance of marijuana is increasing and even decriminalization now appears inadequate as a reform measure. Hopefully, this change in attitude will soon translate into political action. We look forward to the day when pot decriminalization gives way to pot legalization.
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