The war on weed is failing worldwide, and some states and countries are seeking new alternatives. Russia, Venezuela, Canada and the US state of Alaska are the latest to jump on the reform bandwagon.
In January, 2004 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the way by decriminalizing the possession of any drug for personal use. Simultaneously, he increased penalties for trafficking and growing. Local reporters of the US-friendly anti-Chavez camp were stunned, and reacted vehemently against the move.
In February, 2004 Alaska’s State Court of Appeals ruled that some aspects of marijuana laws were unconstitutional. Marijuana was originally decriminalized for personal use “in the home” in Alaska in 1975, after a court ruled that outright prohibition violated the state constitution’s privacy provisions. In the 2004 case, Defendant David Noy successfully argued that a 1990 state ballot initiative that recriminalized the herb was invalid because its outcome similarly violated the state constitution.
In a sense, the Alaskan decision mimics decriminalization, lightening up on personal use but still penalizing traffickers and growers, and it didn’t make federal prosecutors happy whatsoever. They immediately requested that the Court of Appeals rehear the case! The court refused, and now the matter will proceed to the state’s Supreme Court.
On May 14, 2004 the Moscow Times announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed into law an amendment to that country’s criminal code that made possession of less than 11 times the amount of one dose of any drug punishable by a fine of up to $40,000 rubles or community service. Russia’s State Drug Control Commission criticized the move in Pravda as a foreign idea inappropriate for their country.
Meanwhile in Canada, a supposed decriminalization bill, C-10, continues to be batted around. The law is unpopular with anti-druggies and pot activists alike because while it makes possession of small amounts punishable by a ticket fine, it follows Venezuela in providing for harsher sentences for growers and traffickers. Also, there are no added protections for unlicensed medical growers, who may face even harsher prosecution under the new system.
Confusingly, some Canadian prohibitionists and activists also welcome decriminalization. Police are pleased with the idea that tickets would lighten the paperwork of smalltime pot possession busts, making it easier to persecute users. US NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) founder Keith Stroup also favours the bill. At a recent conference in Vancouver, he argued that it might normalize attitudes towards marijuana enough to usher in legalization within a few years.
Should an election be called in Canada, the bill would perish, but Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin promises to reintroduce the bill should Liberals win the upcoming election.
The truth of decriminalization is that it is an absurd answer to an unsolvable problem. Governments around the world are starting to realize that the drug war cannot be won. Prohibition’s only function now is to criminalize marginalized cultures and feed economies based on prison-slavery, but still our rulers don’t know how to let it die gracefully.
In the spirit of helpfulness, I would like to suggest some wars that might replace the drug war, based on laws nearly as archaic as the prohibition of cannabis. Since the US hosts the global drug-war central command, let’s start there.
In Nebraska, based on a law against children belching in church, there could be a war on burps. In New Hampshire, based on a law against keeping time to music, there could be a war on foot tapping. In New Jersey, based on a law against men knitting during fishing season, there could be a war on homemade sweaters and socks. In Ohio, based on a law against getting fish drunk, there could be a war on boozing aquarium owners. In New York, based on a law against looking at women lustfully, there could be a war on flirting. In North Carolina, based on a law against having sex in anything but the missionary position, there could be a war on doing it “doggie style”.
Of course, these new laws will require video cameras under the tables in bars; the construction of furnaces to burn knit clothing; expensive licenses to sell live fish; thousands more jails for horny men; and expansive powers for cops to look through windows, break into homes and hide under beds to ensure proper sexual conduct. To support these wars, new government departments will have to be created and new taxes levied; funds will have to be diverted from education and social programs; and police will have to find more time by abstaining from less-important robbery, rape and murder investigations. And yet none of this should be a problem, for each of these excesses have been surpassed many times in the war on drugs.