Don’t use drugs. If these two statements seem contradictory, it’s understandable. Legalization is approval. And since drug abuse is a problem, why approve drug use?
The flaw in this argument is that drug abuse in not a legal problem, it’s a medical and social problem. It wastes lives and is a burden on our health care system; it destroys families; it consumes the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.
Prohibition is a well-intentioned initiative but it doesn’t work. As we discovered in the case of alcohol prohibition, booze was simply driven into the hands of criminals and organized crime who waged war against rivals.
Warring cartels and gangs in Mexico alone killed 120,000 in the years 2006 to 2013. That’s forty per cent more deaths than all the deaths due to illegal drug use in the U.S. according to data from the Center for Disease Control.
Guns in Canada are a serious problem. In the same period (2006 – 2013) there were approximately 1500 gun homicides in Canada. Not exactly the carnage that Mexico is experiencing but that’s not the point: just because guns result in death and injury, no sensible person would suggest making them illegal.
What does make sense is the regulation of guns. Gun owners must obtain a Possession and Acquisition Licence and renew it every five years. Education makes sense. As a general rule, applicants must have passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.
Tobacco in Canada is a serious problem. In the same period, 259,000 Canadians died due to tobacco-related diseases according to the Canadian Cancer Agency. Education has reduced the number of Canadians who smoke from fifty to less than fifteen per cent.
Politicians have agreed for decades that education is key to harm reduction. As one of the founding members of the Calgary chapter of the Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee in 1976, I received letters from all leaders.
In his letter, then leader of the opposition Progressive Conservative party Joe Clark wrote: “In my view, a drug education programme would be far more beneficial and economical in attacking the problem than using law enforcement agencies and the courts.”
NDP leader Ed Broadbent thought that marijuana should be removed from the Criminal Code and placed under the Food and Drug Act and added: “I would agree with your statement that it does not appear to have any worse impact than alcohol.”
Prime Minster Trudeau wrote that his Bill S-19, one that would remove marijuana from the Food and Drug Act, died on the order paper but his government was pursuing the bill. “[My government] is working to make certain the legislation we introduce strikes a proper balance between concerns over the personal and social effects of penal laws aimed at discouraging its use.”
Time has stood still for the last four decades. Regressive Canadian governments have preferred to pander to misconceptions such as the “war on drugs,” or “prohibition works.”
Meanwhile the U.S., a place we think of a bastion of conservative thought, has leapt ahead of Canada. Now some states, such as Washington, have legalized the sale of marijuana. I just returned from Seattle and didn’t notice any reefer madness in the streets.