Cannabis News



Rising Use of Pot Proves The Law

Can't Solve All Our Social Problems


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Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Published: Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Vancouver Sun 
Contact: [email protected]

As we saw yesterday, Parliament criminalized marijuana in 1923, despite the fact that cannabis was virtually unknown in Canada at the time. Indeed, the drug remained a non-issue for another 40 years, right up until Parliament introduced tough new measures to solve a "problem."

In 1961, as both the United States and Canada ramped up the war on drugs, Parliament passed the Narcotic Control Act. Within a few years, as the cultural revolution was brewing, marijuana use in both countries skyrocketed.

And marijuana users have never looked back: Despite tougher laws, enhanced police powers and more drug seizures, cannabis use continues to escalate. According to the Canadian Addiction Survey, 44.5 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 have used marijuana. That's a whopping increase from the 28.7 per cent of those who reported trying the drug just a decade ago.

Despite our strongly prohibitionist mentality, Canada has one of the highest rates of marijuana use in the world, right up there with that other prohibitionist powerhouse, the U.S.

In contrast, that great social experiment on the other side of the Atlantic -- the Netherlands -- de facto legalized marijuana possession 30 years ago, yet less than 20 per cent of the population has used marijuana.

Other European nations with liberal drug laws, such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal, also experience much lower rates of marijuana use than Canada and the U.S.

None of this is to suggest that tough drug laws actually encourage use. After all, Sweden, whose drug laws are in many ways as draconian as those of the U.S., has one of the lowest rates of marijuana use among Western nations. And Australia, with its relatively liberal policies, joins Canada at the top of the world.

So what is the relationship between marijuana prohibition and marijuana use? There isn't one: As a number of European studies have demonstrated, the severity of drug laws simply has no effect on the level of drug use.

It's common wisdom that behaviour is influenced by the risk of getting caught, rather than the severity of the law itself. Yet studies have demonstrated that the amount of money a country devotes to law enforcement, or the number of arrests it makes, has no bearing on the number of people in the country who use marijuana.

While we would like the law to solve all of our social problems, or perceived problems, it's clear that it's often unable to do so. Marijuana use, as with so many other behaviours, is influenced much more strongly by cultural factors and social values than by the law.

This suggests that our attempt to control marijuana use through the blunt instrument of the law is doomed to fail -- indeed, it has already failed. And while failing, it has created a monster.

The monster has many heads and goes by many names: the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the triads, la Casa Nostra. Be it bikers, Asian gangs or the traditional mafia, all have experienced a tremendous boon from the criminalization of marijuana and other drugs.

Despite the billions of dollars Canada and other countries have spent in efforts to rid the world of the drug "scourge," trade in illicit drugs continues unabated. Canadian adults and teenagers report that it's "easy" or "very easy" to obtain marijuana. The RCMP, which favours continued criminalization of marijuana, estimates that organized crime syndicates now make billions of dollars annually from the sale of illegal drugs.

Canada's attempt to reduce the supply and consumption of illegal marijuana through criminalization have therefore been a dismal failure, and the billions of dollars we have pumped into the effort have made their way into the hands of organized crime.

There has to be a better way. But is Bill C-38 the right way?

Tomorrow: Bill C-38: The good, the bad and the ugly.

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