Government’s solution to pot ‘problem’ doesn’t go far enough

Marijuana was made illegal 80 years ago in a puritanical panic.  The federal government’s solution is to decriminalize marijuana but leave it illegal.  It would be wrong to possess marijuana but not as wrong as before.  Seem confusing?


There is a better way. Canada’s law courts already have a good start in changing our arcane marijuana laws.

For instance, it’s already legal to possess less than 30 grams of marijuana in Ontario.  The recent ruling of the Ontario Superior Court has “effectively erased the criminal prohibition on marijuana possession from the law books in Ontario,” said the lawyer who challenged the law on behalf of a 17-year-old client.

Canadians in Ontario can possess small amounts of marijuana without any legal sanctions – – not even fear of a ticket.

The Ontario court ruling is consistent with other court rulings over the last 3 years.  It all started with the case of epileptic Terry Parker.  First the court ruled that the Canada’s law violated the constitutional rights of sick people to possess marijuana for medical reasons.  Later, other courts ruled that if sick people could possess marijuana then so could all Ontarians.

The Supreme Court of Canada is also very interested in the proposed bill.  They suspended hearing a constitutional challenge of Canada’s marijuana laws pending the outcome of new laws.

The federal bill has been hastily constructed as a response to the court challenges.  And even if passed, the proposed bill may not withstand subsequent court challenges.

The bill is flawed because it doesn’t address fundamental problems with the old law.  For example the new law would criminalize the growing of just one plant but make the possession of marijuana a minor offence.  The difference growing and possession could hinge on whether the plant is growing or dead.  If the plant is growing you are a criminal and if it is dead, you’ll get a ticket.  I see it all now -dramatic court debates determining when a plant ceases to live.

If the Ontario court ruling became the law of the land, then possession of less than 30 grams would have no legal status.  Possession would not be criminal or illegal.  You could possess it for medical, recreational, or contemplative purposes.

Marijuana has been used for centuries to alter consciousness and achieve spiritual insights. Scientist Dr. Carl Sagan writes  “I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate (1969).”

The religious right in the U.S. Bush administration has a different view of marijuana use.  They don’t see it as a gateway to enlightenment but as a gateway to hell.  They imagine one toke as being the corruption of our youth and ruin of society.

These kinds of puritanical views from the U.S. got us in the predicament that we are in today.  After California enacted anti-marijuana laws in 1915, an epidemic of moral outrage gripped Canadians.

Emily Murphy, the otherwise rational champion of women’s rights in Canada, took her cues from a Los Angles police chief.  The chief  said that marijuana use drives users “completely insane.”

In 1922, writing under the name “Janey Canuk”  for Maclean’s magazine and in a book called “The Black Candle,”  she said that users become  “raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.”   A year later,  marijuana was criminalized.

The guardians of North American morals are now in Washington, D.C.  They don’t worry about the ruinous effects that legalized booze has on society or carnage on our highways caused by drunk drivers.  For the good ol’ boys in the halls of power, “white lightning’s still the biggest thrill of all (Merle Haggard, 1969)”

I hope that the government of Canada’s proposed bill to decriminalize marijuana fails.  But even if it passes, I doubt that it will withstand legal challenges any better than the old law did.

The Constitution of Canada would bring a rational resolution to decades old half-baked misconceptions borrowed from the U.S.  And not even keepers of North American morality in Washington could criticize a defence of our constitution.

In the case of acne, the cure is sometimes worse than the ailment   

On January 5 of this year, fifteen year old Charles Bishop stole an airplane and crashed it into a Florida office.  He killed himself but no on else was hurt.

In light of September 11, it looked like the act of a pathetic copy-cat.  Newspapers reported the contents of a suicide note left behind.  In it, Bishop claimed that Afghanistan’s al-Qaida had tried to recruit him.


What most newspapers didn’t report was that Bishop had been taking the powerful prescription drug Accutane.  Used in the treatment of skin acne, Accutane has dangerous side effects including depression, suicide and psychosis, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The suicidal side effects are significant enough that the maker of the drug, Roche, had to retract claims that Accutane was useful in treating “psychological trauma” and “emotional suffering” associated with acne.

Accutane is one of many prescription drugs being marketed directly to the general public.   Direct marketing is illegal in Canada but legal in the U.S.   As a result Canadians see the ads that pour over the U.S. border on television and in magazines.  Canadian media, anxious to get advertising dollars, have been dodging the law.

The law is there for a good reason.  Direct marketing bypasses the expertise of the doctor by appealing directly to consumers.   Canadians who view the ads innocently diagnose their real or imaginary problems and insist that doctors write out prescriptions.  Unfortunately, those who diagnose themselves have a fool for a patient.

Drug companies have convinced governments to look the other way.  Governments are told to get out of the way of big business and reduce regulations.  And isn’t consumer choice the saviour of us all?

Not that acne doesn’t cause “emotional suffering.”  I know because as a teen, I suffered through the “psychological trauma” of acne.  In desperation, I would have bought any drug I thought might work.  But the cure is sometimes worse than the ailment.  Direct marketing preys on the vulnerable.

Along with suicidal tendencies, another known side effect of Accutane is a risk of severe birth defects if taken during pregnancy.  They include mental disabilities, missing ears and heart problems.  Despite warnings from doctors, by 1988 there had been over 500 children worldwide had been born of Accutane users with such defects.

The tragic birth of deformed babies prompted calls for Health Canada to ban the drug.  Instead of banning the drug, with the regulators’ approval, the manufacturer set up this pregnancy prevention programme.   But it didn’t happen.

Doctor Gideon Koren  at Toronto’s Hospital For Sick Children reports four women became pregnant while taking Accutane in a six month period alone.  All had been warned of the risk, but only one had been given the pregnancy prevention programme.

The pressure on doctors to prescribe drugs is great when patients insist on getting them, convinced of the drug manufacturers claims.  Doctors are only human and give in to this pressure, despite misgivings.

Accutane is not alone in the flogging of prescription drugs directly to consumers.  A smiling woman beckons you to ask your doctor for Sarafem to treat the world’s newest disease, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  Ex-NHL great Guy LaFleur is pushing Viagra in his battle against erectile dysfunction.  The ads appeal to vanity, hypochondria, and human frailty.

The cost of drugs to our health care system is enormous.  We already spent more money on drugs than we do on doctors wages.   But that fact sometimes gets buried in the health care debate. The reason is purely political.

It’s easy for the B.C. Liberal government, for example, to moan at the recent wage increases for doctors.  But you don’t see them trying to regulate the obscene profits of drug manufactures.   Health care workers are fair game for this government.

Beware of governments who offer choice in health care.  In this case, they advocate the urge of consumers to choose potentially dangerous, inappropriate, and expensive treatments.

On a recent visit to Canada, Dr. Peter Mansfield from Australia urged Canada to start enforcing its law against U.S. style direct-to-consumer advertising.  Only the U.S. and New Zealand have not yet banned the practice. “The drugs are the newest, and often most expensive drugs, but not necessarily the best,” he says.  Such advertising distracts doctors and patients from safer, cost effective therapies.

Referendums won’t solve real problem with public water supply 

Many Kamloopsians voted last Saturday to remove what they considered a pollutant, fluoride, from our water.  I like the idea of voting pollutants out of our water but referenda are not going to solve the real problem. The problem is that we are not even aware of many pollutants that we add to our water, let alone able to list them for the next referendum.  Like pharmaceuticals, for example.  Health Canada says that 80 per cent of drugs that we ingest are excreted and end up in our water.  Talk about mass medication.


Up to 50 different medications are turning up in trace amounts in our water. “Birth control pills, and hormones. We’re also finding aspirin … anti-depressants, … blood pressure medication, the sort of medication that’s being used widely by the population,”  said Health Canada’s Elizabeth Nielsen.

Canadians are unwitting agents in the pollution of water with drugs.  We are conduits for big pharmaceutical companies who are dumping drugs in the water through us.  We aren’t completely innocent in the process – – Canadians throw perfectly good medicines down the toilet.  There is a solution other than a referendum.

Dosages of medications could be adjusted so that they are completely metabolized.  It’s a matter of finding out how quickly our bodies burn the drugs up.  Also, some drugs with a long shelf life might be returned to dispensaries for redistribution instead of being thrown out.

Health Canada recognizes the problem and is developing new regulations for drugs, foods and cosmetics that will require manufacturers to prove they won’t cause a problem in the environment.

Other water pollutants are the direct cause of agribusiness.  Ontario and Quebec alone produce as much livestock sewage as Japan does with 100 million people.  In this case, it’s the cows who are the unwitting players in the problem.  They are just doing what comes naturally.

The problem is too much manure from too many animals that is running off into fields, rivers and lakes.  The misuse of manure and fertilizer on farmland has damaged our ecosystem says Environment Commissioner Johannes Gelinas.   She understands the nutrient value of manure.  It’s high in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen which are an important resource for growing crops.  There is now too much of it to simply spread on the land.  It’s not just the nutrients that are the problem.

The stuff also contains the deadly e-coli bacteria.  The risk is not only to the ecosystem but the health and life of those who drink the polluted water.   Such was the case in Walkerton, where seven people died and more than two thousand others got sick after cattle manure polluted the drinking water.

The problem is that pollutants like medicines and manure can’t be voted out of our water in a referendum.  They need the sustained attention of governments who can work on solutions full time.

The federal Liberals though Health Canada seem to trying.  The B.C. Liberals talk a good line. “Our program will ensure the highest environmental standards and respects the strong environmental concerns of British Columbians,” says premier Campbell in an open letter to his Minister of Air, Land and Water Protection.

But Minister Joyce Murray is getting mixed messages from Campbell.  He also tells Murray that he will reduce regulations “that impair people’s legitimate desire to conduct their affairs in an efficient and helpful manner.”   Ah, therein lies the problem.

You can’t maintain high environmental standards without what industry calls “red tape” — government regulations that prevent industry and agribusiness from doing what they want.

Ordinary people and cows can’t control what they excrete.  Premier Campbell will have to offer more than environmental platitudes.  He will have to put his money where his mouth is.

We elect governments to make tough choices. The B.C. Liberals must decide whether they are going to protect the environment or cut regulations.  They can’t do both.

And our city council will have to govern instead throwing their hands up in despair when the going gets tough.  Referenda are an easy way for governments to avoid making hard choices.  And regrettably, most water pollutants can’t be removed by simply voting them out of existence.

Paranoid pot law an example of U.S. domination over Canada

Government inaction is required to solve this problem.  That’s right, I said inaction.  If the federal government does nothing in the next 12 months, marijuana possession will no longer be illegal in Ontario. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled that Canada’s laws prohibiting marijuana are unconstitutional because they prevent the medicinal use of the drug.


According to law professor Alan Young, marijuana possession could become legal by default — as did abortions when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws that criminalized them. The Government of Canada did nothing and abortions became legal.  If marijuana possession is decriminalized in Ontario, it would be only a matter of time until other provinces follow.

Let me clarify a few things at the start.  The motives of those seeking decriminalization of marijuana are always suspect.  Advocates are often suspected of trying to justifying their own habits (I am not a marijuana user).  Or, they must be trying to push a debauched  lifestyle (I live a sedate, conservative lifestyle).  Must be promoting politics (well, got me there, although I am not a member of any political party).

Another charge is that marijuana advocates are trying to corrupt our youth.  As a father, I take this allegation seriously.  I am not in favour of the recreational use of drugs by teenagers.  But there has to be a better way to control drug abuse.  Marijuana prohibition has failed miserably.  More than one-half of Canadians have tried marijuana, and approximately one-quarter use it regularly.

Prohibition creates an aura of “forbidden fruit”.  As the Bible teaches us, when a fruit is within reach, and we are told not to eat it, it gains an irresistible mystique. It didn’t work for alcohol, it won’t work for marijuana.  The non-medical use of marijuana is a public health issue. Its use can be controlled more effectively through education, similar to the way that advertising campaigns have reduced the consumption of tobacco.

There is another aspect of Canada’s marijuana laws that galls  me.   Marijuana was only criminalized in Canada as a result  of puritanical fervour in the United States.

Lurid rumours of the effects of marijuana use were imported by Canadian  Emily Murphy.  In her book, The Black Candle, she quoted a Los Angles police chief as saying that marijuana use drives peoples “completely insane”.  For good measure, she added “death and abandonment” as effects.

In 1923, the Minister of Health rose in parliament to say that “another drug has been added to the schedule” of the Narcotics Control Act.  Marijuana was not mentioned by name.  No debate took place about the merits of criminalizing a plant that had potential medical applications.  No mention was made about the devastating effect that it had on the growing of hemp — useful for the production of everything from clothing to paper and seed oil.

With one casual act of parliament, based on an American delusion, a whole potential industry was criminalized.  In a strange twist, the agency responsible for the enforcement of American drug laws, the Drug Enforcement Agency, acknowledged in 1988 that marijuana is “one of the safest therapeutic substances”.

Canadians keep feeding American paranoia.  Americans look over their shoulder, and we flinch.  Most recently, arrests for marijuana cultivation in B.C. have increased because of complaints from south of the boarder about exportation of our high grade marijuana.  Americans are setting up a high-tech surveillance system along sections of the B.C.-U.S. boarder, complete with night cameras and motion detectors to stem the flow of drugs and contraband.

The war on drugs in the US has been a war against its own citizens, especially visible minorities and the poor, who have little resources to defend themselves.  Paranoia has reached a high level in politics with the selection of Pat Buchanan as presidential hopeful by a segment of the Reform Party of America.

Buchanan wants to erect a wall, similar to the famous Great Wall of China, along the Canada-U.S. boarder to keep the potent weed and alien hordes out.  Millions of Americans will vote for this man.  Its time we stopped scratching every time Americans get an itch.  Subservience is not getting us anywhere.