It’s not easy being green, man.
However, thanks to a cheekily-timed announcement by Health Minister Jane Philpott on April 20, the international cannabis-infused counterculture holiday and coincidently Hitler’s birthday, it may be getting a bit easier.
Legislation to legalize weed is coming in 2017 Philpott promised at the UN headquarters in New York as part of a three-day special session tackling the world’s drug problems.
And boy does the world have drug problems.
In a review of published studies Australian researchers determined that 200 million people, roughly one in 20, use illicit drugs including marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and opioids.
Philpott stayed pretty close to the Liberal campaign promises, stating the new reforms will keep “marjiuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals.”
She said the new position on marijuana challenges the status quo of many cultures and even more importantly notes “we know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”
That was a memo the former Conservative government never got, or wouldn’t read if they did. In fact, their mandatory minimum sentences for specific drug crime convictions and certain limits on pre-trial custody credit were recently found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. This is only the third time in history the court found section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was violated by mandatory minimums.
Tough-on-crime rhetoric sounds good on the campaign trail but takes society backwards when it comes to drug prohibition, permeating the vilification of drug users.
Portugal tried the all-too-familiar conservative tough-on-crime approach in the 1980s, making an about-face in 2001 when the country decided to decriminalize drug use and possession.
What happened next was remembered by nobody as the country nosedived into a Woodstock-esque parade of debauchery and criminal activity accompanied by a simultaneous increase in the popularity of Jazz music.
Of course none of that happened. Instead, according to statistics provided by think-tank Transform, rates of continuation of drug use among all adults (aged 15-64) declined nearly 10 per cent between 2001 and 2012, drug-induced deaths dropped massively, nearly 70 per cent, and HIV rates were reduced in the same time frame.
More important than the statistics is the Portuguese government shifting drug control from the department of justice to their health ministry. Treatment over incarceration, a crucial move that should be noted. While it has burdened Portugal with rising healthcare costs, drugs and addiction are health issues not criminal ones and definitely not moral ones. Man has been using drugs since the beginning of recorded history.
Drugs and crime are undoubtedly linked as well. As someone who spends a lot of time in Penticton courtrooms, I can tell you this first hand. But it’s a vicious cycle. People face drug addictions, homelessness and turn to property crime to support their habit, finding themselves further disenfranchised with society as they spiral in and out of incarceration.
The stigma against those addicted to drugs serves no one. It might make you feel good to look down your nose at someone with a drug issue, but you are really looking at a person who clearly has trouble dealing with the challenges of day-to-day life.
Of course, why is it up to your tax dollars to help a drug addict?
Well, Washington State made $67.5 million in pot-taxes in its first year, projected by some to surge to $1 billion over four years. The funds go towards health-related services in the state, a much more important focus.
The war on drugs failed. Eradicating drug use through the justice system is an impossible task and we need to acknowledge as a society that the iron-fist approach was never an effective method.
The us-and-them mentality towards drug users needs to end. Obviously drugs are not good for you. Neither are alcohol or cigarettes, but regulation is possible if done properly. It takes the power away from unregulated street dealers who are held to zero standards.
The legalization announcement is one of the first steps towards Canada becoming a world leader in reversing a societal norm that has done more harm than good.
Either way, now is a good time to invest in Doritos stock.
This opinion piece was written by Dale Boyd, a reporter with the Penticton Western News.