Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Author: Todd Babiak, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Friday, January 30, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: [email protected]
Pot is a cash crop. So why leave the bounty to thieves and murderers, when the government could get in the grow business?
It's poetic that police discovered $30 million worth of marijuana plants in a former Molson brewery complex in Barrie, Ont., this week. In the national imagination, beer and marijuana are linked. Both are recreational drugs. Both are smelly. Both hold the potential for abuse. Neither is the child of Satan.
Toronto lawyer and marijuana advocate Alan Young suggested the bust was part of a plot to convince Paul Martin's government to shy away from Jean Chretien's crusade for decriminalization. Plot isn't the right word, but Young is on to something.
This week's arrests and seizures hurt advocates of decriminalization because it exposes the flaws in their reasoning.
Under decriminalization, pot will remain illegal; growing and dealing marijuana will remain a serious criminal offense. Possessing up to approximately half an ounce for your own consumption will get you a fine but not a criminal record. Feeling safe from arrest, the university students, doctors, plumbers and grandparents who smoke marijuana may smoke a fraction more after decriminalization, which only means increased profits for the organized crime syndicates who grow and distribute pot.
Most Canadians accept that marijuana is different from crack cocaine, crystal meth and heroin. Most Canadians agree that smoking a joint is no more a criminal act than running off the golf course to pee on a birch. The country needs a new marijuana policy, but we shouldn't allow thieves and murderers to get rich off our leaders' political cowardice.
Decriminalization is a weak and perilous compromise. The only logical answer to the question of marijuana is legalization and regulation.
In newspapers across the country and on CBC Radio this week, police officers praised the grow operation in Barrie for its sophistication. "To use a retail term, this was what you would call a big-box approach," said Wayne Frechette, the chief of police in Barrie.
Other officials joked about what authorities would do with all the seized plants. They wouldn't be able to burn them because all of Huronia would begin to giggle, act slightly paranoid and end up with the munchies. Media outlets had a barrel of laughs with punny headlines and feature stories. The front page of The Globe and Mail read "Big marijuana factory was one strange joint."
Do we think cocaine is funny? Do newspaper editors think up wacky headlines for embezzlement, shoplifting, assault and rape? Do we use retail terms for stolen nuclear material? Does Chretien tell the press he's going to punch Aline in the head when he retires? We don't need any more polls to tell us that the average Canadian is comfortable with marijuana. If university students, doctors, plumbers and grandparents are getting high in their homes, it's none of the government's business.
But it should be. The big-box grow operation in Barrie shouldn't be dismantled. It should be nationalized and its products should be taxed.
On Tuesday, Martin met with George W. Bush in Monterrey, Mexico. The war on drugs is dear to President Bush, as it is to the U.S. Congress. Social conservatives, who make up a large percentage of active Republicans, feel that marijuana is one of Satan's many children. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, has said there will be trade repercussions if Canada decriminalizes marijuana. Borders will be tighter. Body probes will be deeper.
This is a legitimate concern for our new prime minister. If we further empower the mobs and gangs who control the marijuana trade in Canada, there is a good chance they will enhance their distribution networks into the United States. However, if we buy in and regulate the marijuana industry in Canada, we remove a significant chunk of the syndicates' revenue and, potentially, improve our ability to track and monitor Canadian crops. With legalization, Canada wouldn't be exporting any more marijuana into the States than it already does.
The Canadian government and police forces across the country spend too much money and energy trying to disrupt the marijuana trade. Since it's run by gangsters who tend to arm themselves, police officers are needlessly putting themselves in danger every time they enter a grow operation, whether it's in a suburban bungalow or an old brewery.
As we've learned from the Americans, the war on pot is futile. We accept marijuana so fully that the Cheech and Chong movies aren't funny anymore.
Eventually, when we're ready, we can sell the old beer vats from the Barrie brewery to some unarmed and reasonable entrepreneurs. We can spend a significant amount of the marijuana tax to convince kids, who are smoking it anyway, not to bother.
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