Gang violence is a major concern for Vancouver and British Columbia. Shootings and murders happen so often that people feel unsafe in their own homes and communities. There was another time in history when gangsters terrorized society, bought fancy cars and weapons, lived lifestyles only criminal activity could afford, and shot rivals as they fought for control over the market. Law enforcement was unable to stop the violence, regardless of how severe the penalties and policing were. This happened under alcohol prohibition, and it’s happening again now under drug prohibition.
The modern-day example of prohibition’s absolute failure is Mexico. The United States’ southern neighbour is awash with gangs and drug cartels. These violent groups are murdering not just rivals, but also police, military personnel, politicians, and innocent victims. Over the years, Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, has called for more law enforcement and military deployment, but every escalation of policing and imprisonment has resulted in rising gang violence and executions. In addition, government and law enforcement officials have been corrupted by the cartels, paid enormous sums of money in order to turn a blind eye towards drug-related criminal activity.
Is this what the province of British Columbia is headed towards? I strongly believe that, if we continue to fund and expand the failed policy of drug prohibition, Mexico’s drug war situation is a harbinger of our future. But there is a solution. Numerous experts and organizations are coming out en masse with the suggestion that repealing prohibition—ending the “war on drugs”—is the only way to stop the increasing violence, drug production, and gang growth happening across North America.
Additionally, with the worldwide economic situation getting worse every day, it’s become clear that the financial expense of investigating, arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning drug users and dealers is too much a burden to bear. Even the Americans are repealing mandatory minimum prison sentences for drugs because the enormous cost of jailing one in every 100 Americans is bankrupting many states.
At this very moment, California and Massachusetts are both proposing a tax-and-regulate model for marijuana to bring the enormous underground criminal industry into government control. British Columbia can lead the way in Canada by introducing similar legislation for cannabis marijuana, which would eventually result in taxing and regulating all psychoactive substances. The cannabis industry in B.C. is worth currently $7 billion to $12 billion, and in a legal environment, the gross revenue to producers would be about $1 billion with a corresponding $2 billion in tax revenues at the retail level.
B.C.’s legislative assembly would implement a taxed and regulated system for marijuana. The health minister will establish regulations for the production and distribution of cannabis in the same way the province is responsible for regulating the distribution of alcohol and tobacco. (The B.C. regulatory system for alcohol is, in fact, how we emerged from alcohol prohibition.) The solicitor general would instruct all police to cease arrests for marijuana, and the attorney general of B.C. would no longer accept any prosecutions of marijuana-related cases. The reduction in imprisonment would reduce incarceration costs, keep families together, and prevent youth from joining gangs. Children who have a parent in prison are at greater risk to seek life guidance from gangs, and prisoners are often recruited into gangs while behind bars.
The minister of finance would determine taxes and licences for the production and distribution of cannabis products, and collect income taxes from producers, and retail sales tax from retailers. (California’s proposal is a $50 tax per ounce.) The Ministry of Small Business would issue licenses for producers, giving preference to outdoor greenhouse cultivation using the sun and organic nutrients, and employing numerous farmers and agricultural technicians in B.C.’s economically depressed resource towns and regions. Municipalities would have the prerogative of inspecting unlicensed grow-ops and ordering them removed if they pose a safety hazard. The education minister would abolish the DARE program and teach drug education in schools through programs run by health officials. Youth drug education outside of the schools would operate similar to alcohol and tobacco campaigns, which have been proven to reduce the use of these substances among young people.
This model would be effective in drastically reducing gangs, their control over the drug market, and the related violence and murders. Repealing prohibition in favour of a legal model would not only save billions of dollars in law enforcement, courts, and prosecutions, but would also move billions of dollars from the underground economy into the legitimate market to be taxed and regulated. Criminals who try to produce and distribute marijuana outside the regulated industry would be investigated and tried for tax evasion, just as the gangsters were in the 1930s when alcohol prohibition was repealed. Once we end prohibition, gangs will be dealt a severe financial blow, our economy will be buoyed, the streets will be safer, and B.C. will be a leading example for the rest of Canada.
Jodie Emery is the Green Party of B.C. candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview.
– Article from The Georgia Straight.