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Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON) 
Published: July 26, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact: [email protected]

Claims by politicians and police that we need tougher drug-law enforcement to stop Canadian marijuana flooding the United States have become pretty much conventional wisdom. It's time that changed.

Because of this conventional wisdom, we can expect the re-introduction of legislation raising sentences on growers when Parliament convenes. But before that happens, we would suggest parliamentarians take note of the latest RCMP report on drugs in Canada because, whether the Mounties intended it or not, the report contains powerful evidence that the conventional wisdom is completely wrong.

Exports of what is described in Canadian law as "marihuana" -- the law's spelling, like its thinking, is still stuck in the 1930s -- are indeed a "thriving industry," the RCMP notes in The Drug Situation in Canada, 2003. But for the first time, the Mounties put that industry in perspective. "Most of the marihuana available on the American illicit market still originates primarily in the U.S. and in Mexico. Canada ranks far below Mexico as a source for the U.S."

Far below, indeed. In 2003, the report states, U.S. Customs seized over 400,000 kilograms of pot on the border with Mexico. In the same year, it netted a little more than 15,000 kilograms on the Canadian border. Seizures are only rough indicators of what's really going on in black markets, but these numbers suggest Mexican pot exports are 27 times higher than ours.

The report also notes, briefly, that the single largest source of marijuana in the U.S. is neither Canada nor Mexico, but the United States itself. This fact is critical, yet the Mounties downplay it in the report.

Unlike Canada, no one says the U.S. is soft on marijuana. Under American federal sentencing guidelines, cultivation offences that might get as little as a few weeks in jail or even a conditional sentence here are punished with three to seven years in prison. And many state laws are even tougher. Major growers often face 10, 20, or 30 years in prison -- even life without parole. An estimated 100,000 Americans are currently behind bars for marijuana offences.

Canadian police often note the disparity in punishments between Canada and the U.S., but what they never say is what good has all that punishment done. That's because there's no evidence it has done any good.

A U.S. Department of Justice report noted, "96.9 per cent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide describe the availability of marijuana as high or medium." And a survey of American teenagers found 89 per cent say it is "very easy" or "fairly easy" to get pot. The U.S. is awash in weed, probably more now than at any time in its history. And, as the RCMP admits, the biggest growers of that weed are Americans undeterred by the mighty American war on drugs. Naturally, the RCMP would rather we not conclude that the fight against marijuana is a futile and destructive waste of money, but the Mounties' own report, if read with care and a little background knowledge, leaves no alternative.

Keep that in mind when Parliament returns and the inevitable clamour for more enforcement and tougher sentences resumes.

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