Legalization Can No Longer Be Snickered Away

Legalization Can No Longer Be Snickered Away
Posted by CN Staff on September 05, 2002 at 10:48:17 PT
By Dan Gardner, The Ottawa Citizen 
Source: Ottawa Citizen 
It is rational, rigorous, comprehensive, lucid, thoughtful and scientifically sound. And unless there are cabinet ministers with more vision and courage than their predecessors, the Senate's magnificent report on marijuana will quickly disappear into the Parliamentary Library and be forgotten.I wish I were more optimistic. I wish I could believe that the four-volume, 650-page report -- the product of 39 meetings with 234 witnesses in eight cities -- might have lasting effect. 
I wish I could believe federal ministers will sit down and really read it, consider its evidence and arguments, and act on their judgment about what's best for Canada.But I can't believe any of that. I know too much history. And it's to history we have to turn first to really understand just how important the Senate's brave report is, and why it would be a tragedy if it is indeed ignored.Canada first banned marijuana in 1923, as the Senate report reminds those who bother to read it. Why? Was Canadian society being devastated by legal marijuana? Not at all. In fact, marijuana scarcely existed in Canada -- its first appearance in the nation's capital wasn't until 1932. But there were silly, absurd tales about marijuana emanating from the United States. A journalist named Emily Murphy (yes, the same one with a statue on Parliament Hill) used these to whip up Canadian fears of this non-existent drug. Users "become raving maniacs," Ms. Murphy wrote in 1922, "and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons using the most savage methods of cruelty."A year later, a clerk added marijuana to a draft list of banned substances. Parliament passed the list without comment, and thus was marijuana banned without a word of discussion. The story was similar elsewhere. In Britain, marijuana was slipped onto a list of banned substances that got five minutes' debate in Parliament before being passed; marijuana was never mentioned. In the United States, the federal government followed many states and banned marijuana in 1937. A Congressional committee started the process after being told by the head of the narcotics police that marijuana literally turned users into axe-murderers. When the committee took its bill banning marijuana to Congress, the committee chair assured members "there is no controversy about it." When someone was so impertinent as to ask what the bill was about, the chair replied: "It has something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind."Seven days after the federal ban came into force, the first conviction was registered. A 58-year-old man was sentenced to four years in Leavenworth. "Marijuana destroys life itself," the presiding judge declared.Not all officials efforts to deal with marijuana have been so riddled with ignorance and prejudice. Over the decades, literally dozens of inquiries have looked into marijuana use, its effects, and how public policy should deal with it. The first was a British commission created in 1893 to look at marijuana in India, where the plant is indigenous and its use widespread. "On the whole," the committee concluded after years of study, "the weight of evidence is to the effect that moderation in the use of hemp drugs is not injurious."The language may be a little archaic, but that sentence wouldn't look out of place in yesterday's Senate report.In fact, virtually every serious study of marijuana, its effect and public policy has concluded that the scary stories of drug cops are nonsense and that punishments should be eased, to one degree or another. There was a major study in 1969. Another in 1970. Two in 1972. One in 1977, and 1982, 1994 and 1995. Britain has done two studies. So have Australia, the United States, Holland and now Canada. And these are just the major inquiries.All these studies recommended either that marijuana use be "decriminalized" -- meaning punishable only be a modest fine, like a parking ticket -- or that it should be a legalized entirely. A few also supported some system of legal sales of marijuana.Nor can all this research and study be written off as the work of flower children. Some of the top names in law, medicine and academia can be found on these reports. So can the names of some very tough-minded conservatives. Consider the 1972 report of the Shafer committee in the United States. Its unanimous conclusion: "Marijuana use is not such a grave problem that individuals who smoke marijuana, and possess it for that purpose, should be subject to criminal prosecution." The chair of the committee was Raymond Shafer, a retired Republican governor and renowned drug hawk. Richard Nixon personally selected Mr. Shafer and filled the committee with other rock-ribbed Republicans, in the expectation that the report would slam the hippies and cheer on Nixon's "war on drugs."Nixon, of course, dismissed the Shafer report without even reading it. Legalization, Nixon believed, was something being pushed by "Jews" and he would have none of it.Probably the most famous report on marijuana, and other drugs, is that of Canada's Le Dain commission, a huge undertaking that involved four years of intense research. Many academics still consider it the best of the lot. In the end, the Le Dain commission recommended legalizing personal possession and use of marijuana, but not its sale and production. One member dissented and called for mere "decriminalization" of possession. Another, the criminologist Marie-Andrée Bertrand, also dissented and recommended not only the legalization of possession, but also a controlled system of legal production and distribution.Some of the Le Dain recommendations were announced with great fanfare in 1972. The government of Pierre Trudeau responded in the House with a promise to at least abolish imprisonment for possession. Of course, Trudeau did not keep his word. Today, as always, marijuana possession is punishable by up to seven years in prison.This is why I remain so pessimistic about the Senate report's prospects. Le Dain carefully gathered the facts. Le Dain calmly and rationally demonstrated that the status quo is a terrible mistake. Le Dain made modest, practical suggestions for reform. And Pierre Trudeau blew it all off just as abruptly as Dick Nixon.Can we expect more from Jean Chrétien than Pierre Trudeau? How about Paul Martin and the other leadership hopefuls? Or Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who made a few cryptic comments about decriminalization this summer? Forgive my doubts, but the century-long record of politicians on this issue gives little reason for hope.Still, there is one very welcome effect the Senate report is bound to have: Legalization can no longer be snickered away -- or, worse, ignored. When Mr. Cauchon mentioned decriminalization, the questions only came from one direction. How is decriminalization better than the status quo? How do you know the sky won't fall? But now, thanks to the Senate report, there will be questions from the other end: What is the value of ticketing people for marijuana possession? Why is that better than simply letting people decide for themselves whether they will use marijuana or not?It's even possible -- or at least possible for me to hope -- that the Senate report will knock the wind out of the "decriminalization" option that has become the refuge of politicians who know the status quo is a sad joke, but can't bring themselves to say "legalize." The problem with decriminalization, as the Senate report makes crystal-clear, is that it does absolutely nothing about the black market in marijuana. It is the prohibition of the production and sale of marijuana that puts the trade into the hands of the Hells Angels, the Bandidos and every other thug looking to make a quick buck. Only by creating a system of licensed, legal production and sale can the black market be taken away from organized crime -- a lesson no one who reads the Senate report can miss.The Le Dain commission didn't go quite that far because they felt there wasn't enough information about the long-term effects of marijuana or what effect legalized sales would have on use. We now have that information, the Senate report says, and it is based on those facts the report supports full legalization. In a sense, that makes the Senate report the concluding chapter to the Le Dain report of 30 years ago. That's a historic achievement that chairman Senator Pierre Claude Nolin should take pride in.There's much else the senators should be proud of. The report is astonishingly thorough, marvelously researched and -- a rare thing for policy reports -- sharply written. With methodical precision, the report takes the mickey out of one myth after another. The "gateway theory?" Drivel. Marijuana causes violence? Silly. "Amotivational syndrome?" Nonsense. The idea that punitive policies reduce marijuana use while more liberal policies send use soaring? Balderdash.And on and on and on. No responsible politician or journalist can spout off about marijuana ever again until they read this report.Of course, in the long, turbulent history of marijuana in the Western world, there have been precious few responsible politicians -- or journalists, to be honest. If we are blessed with such men and women today, the Senate report may be the shot that started the revolution. If not, the report will become just another in the long line of wise studies ignored by the fools who lead us.Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)Author: Dan GardnerPublished: Thursday, September 05, 2002Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen Contact: letters thecitizen.southam.caWebsite: Articles:War on Drugs is Still On, U.S. Insists The High Road, Experts Hail Senate's Report on Pot
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Comment #9 posted by The GCW on September 05, 2002 at 17:34:17 PT
puff tuff
Good toon. Thanks
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Comment #8 posted by FoM on September 05, 2002 at 17:29:31 PT
Oh that's so true!
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Comment #7 posted by puff_tuff on September 05, 2002 at 17:26:01 PT
Editorial Cartoon
From the Halifax HeraldNo Senators smokin' joints
No wordsBut it speaks loudly
Halifax Herald
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Comment #6 posted by The GCW on September 05, 2002 at 16:04:48 PT
Help w/ comment... send LTE...
This is from a LTE (from Raju Hajela MD, past president, Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine) , at the Globe and Mail. I feel less effective when I send too many LTE’s to a newspaper.Can someone comment... To Me, I was wondering if cannabis were to cost as much as green beans or spinach, We might not have to hold in the precious vapors, as long.So, if cannabis did not cost more than gold, We may inhale and exhale with less zeal.WHERE THERE'S SMOKE (from Raju Hajela MD, past president, Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine) Quote: - “Marijuana smokers generally take a two-thirds larger puff volume, one-third greater depth of inhalation, and a fourfold longer breath-holding time than tobacco smokers. So it is easy to see how researchers arrive at the estimate of joint/cigarette harm of about 1:10 when one looks at acute and chronic respiratory symptoms of smoking, in addition to the risk of cancers.”Plus – quote: “...(cannabis) is addictive.” Yes, but caffeine is TWICE as addictive, and here is a chart to help make this clear. Addictive Qualities of Popular Drugs, which also shows nicotine (legal) is more addictive than heroin.We should be able to choose a less dangerous vice, than cigs or booze...
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Comment #5 posted by p4me on September 05, 2002 at 14:00:00 PT
I disagree
It is rational, rigorous, comprehensive, lucid, thoughtful and scientifically sound. And unless there are cabinet ministers with more vision and courage than their predecessors, the Senate's magnificent report on marijuana will quickly disappear into the Parliamentary Library and be forgotten.The Senates report will not be forgotten. The Canadian people are already highly disappointed in their political leaders and are quite willing to change those leaders without this added reason. The majority of people in Canada want legalisation and only the size of the majority is going to change.As soon as Americans get the drift on the controlled media, they will be laughing at the failing attempts to control people's minds by controlling media imput the way the Cnews choir laughs now. Marijuana is going to be legalized in the US and it is just a matter of time.There is no way the Senator's reports will soon be forgotten. It will just lose its significance in Canada when the Canadian people get their demands to stop prosecuting people that use cannabis.That would have been a dramatic end. Unfortunately, I could not leave without commending Marc Emery for his statements he made on pot-tv: Marc Emery blasted the inept Vancouver police authorities for not being able to solve more than 1 in 5 crimes and for taking such a political stand when it is not their job to influence laws. Only 974 people have viewed this video and any self-respecting reformer should make it a point to drive this number up and become more aware of the great story of cannabis reform in Canada.1,2
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Comment #4 posted by Ethan Russo MD on September 05, 2002 at 13:50:30 PT:
Here's the Report
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Comment #3 posted by Dankhank on September 05, 2002 at 13:48:01 PT:
OK, now ...
how do we get a copy?I admit I haven't looked myself, yet ... :-)
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on September 05, 2002 at 12:49:22 PT:
The last line is the clincher
Of course, in the long, turbulent history of marijuana in the Western world, there have been precious few responsible politicians -- or journalists, to be honest. If we are blessed with such men and women today, the Senate report may be the shot that started the revolution. If not, the report will become just another in the long line of wise studies ignored by the fools who lead us.Revolution. Say it. 'Rev-oh-loo-shun'. That's what this is. The drive to re-legalize cannabis is but an appendage of something much larger. A social revoluton that crosses all faiths, races, classes and national boundaries. And scares the bejeezus out of the Daddy Warbucks types who are so very close to their long-planned Global Plantation. And don't want their slated future plantation 'nigras' (you and me, friends; you and me) of the world to bollix it for them. They have nearly everything sewn up; buying up water plants, electrical generation facilities, etc. for the day when the gloves come off, and it's Korporatussmuss Uber Alles, the Fourth Reich of the Rich. They know that cannabis re-legalization is a symbol of defiance, just as the old f-ts of the 1960's saw cannabis as being a symbol of the counterculture...which had no truck with their companies if they could help it. This is partly why the attacks on the Compassionate Centers. Gotta make sure dem nigras know their place before the boom is lowered.I suggest that people read The Best Democracy Money Can Buy to understand just how long this has been going on...and that the ultimate aims of the people doing this is nothing less than my rather fanciful metaphors made real.
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Comment #1 posted by jvthc on September 05, 2002 at 12:39:40 PT:
With one more critical difference...
This report was made available world wide, in full, within days of it's completion and announcement. I've read it, nearly 2,500 miles away. Every interested activist is probably rushing to a web browser to read it, and thus arming themselves with more clear and validated rebutal fuel than one document has ever provided.It may, or may not, move the Canadian Senate, and of course, it's influence on the House is doubtful. I'm convinced, based on the content of his statement alone, that Czar Walters read only one word of it - legalize - before tossing it aside and reciting his memorized one sentence retort. The summary should be required reading - it's not so much about drugs but about the relationship between government and it's citizens. 
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