Thursday, 8 November 2012

Ending cannabis prohibition - you can make a difference, too


Earlier this year I decided to publicly support the work of StoptheViolenceBC, a coalition of health care professionals, past and present public office holders, and community leaders, dedicated to the project of ending marijuana prohibition.
The polls tell us that three-quarters of British Columbians would like to replace prohibition with a carefully designed regime of regulation and taxation.  Earlier this week the voters of Washington State and Colorado decided it was time to stop waiting for politicians to play catch up, and have passed historic initiatives to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis.
I do not recommend that people use marijuana.  Far from it.  But I also don’t think that the over 400,000 British Columbians who do use marijuana are criminals.  They should be free to make their own choices.  A regime which regulated and taxed marijuana would: (1) drive out the organized crime cartels that control the manufacture and distribution of cannabis and increasingly penetrate every aspect of the mainstream economy; (2) end the carnage that ensues when gang members shoot each other in broad daylight on the streets of our cities as they fight for market share; and (3) provide additional revenues to government to support the health awareness and addiction treatment programs that are perennially underfunded.  
The voices that oppose change sometimes say it is foolish to expect that legalizing marijuana would end organized crime.  Well, that’s not what we’re saying.  What legalization would do is end organized crime’s control of the cannabis market.  Organized crime may find something else to do.  But at least gang members won’t be shooting each other in restaurants to increase their market share in cannabis.  And the pernicious spread of commercial grow ops will come to an end.  And people who do smoke pot won’t have to worry if some crook has laced their supply with meth.
Perhaps equally importantly, it’s clear that law enforcement often use possession laws not to deter mainstream use of marijuana, but instead as a 21st century equivalent of vagrancy laws - a handy tool to “manage” some of the most marginalized members of our community, by frisking the noisy panhandler or street homeless person to get them to “move along”. That's an illegitimate use of the criminal law, in my view, and it needs to stop.
In every way imaginable, the policy status quo is a failure.  Increasingly, I think the only thing that holds us back from change is simply that we are used to the status quo, and uncertain about what a new policy framework would look like.   
One of the achievements of the StoptheViolence campaign, in my view, has been to “mainstream” the discussion by getting acknowledged community leaders involved.  The coalition started with health care professionals, including physicians and public health officials.  The coalition’s supporters now include past and present mayors, city councilors, law enforcement officials and more.
Dear reader, maybe it’s time for you to get on board, too.
I know how challenging it can be to wade into a controversial issue which lies outside the main course of one’s duties and responsibilities.  But what we have learned from events in Washington in Colorado this week, and what we know from public opinion polls here in B.C. is that this issue is no longer really controversial.  It’s no longer a question of whether there will be change, but when.  
If you agree, why not add your voice to the dialogue?  Help make change happen sooner, rather than later.
Check out the stoptheviolencebc.org website.  Better yet, write your Member of Parliament.  Tell them it’s time they started listening to their constituents and communities.  Tell them not to wait for change, but instead, lead it.

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