Canada has reached a critical time in its misguided War on Weed. Despite investing countless billions across North America in areas such as law enforcement, prison expansion and border controls, marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure.
Youth today have easier access to pot than alcohol and tobacco, organized crime is getting rich and some neighbourhoods remain deadly combat zones as arrests lead to new rounds of turf warfare among gangs controlling the marijuana trade.
Now, Canada’s federal government and the B.C. provincial government are on the verge of committing many more billions of our tax dollars to this failed policy.
It’s lunacy. Since 1908, when Canada passed the Anti-Opium Act, we have had a century of experience to know that an approach that emphasizes prohibition and leans heavily on costly law enforcement and imprisonment will fail.
Civic leaders are the politicians closest to the gang-related violence that plays out on city streets. As former mayors of Vancouver, we are calling for an alternative to marijuana prohibition. Our call is not new; some mayors in B.C. have already voiced support for our efforts. And in 2007, mayors at the annual United States Conference of Mayors voted unanimously in favour of a statement that noted the War on Drugs has failed and called for a public health approach to drug policy.
Unfortunately, senior levels of government have either ignored pleas to reconsider marijuana prohibition or disregarded evidence that proves – conclusively – that the crusade they are on is doomed to fail.
Canada’s federal government continues to state its strong opposition to taxation and regulation of marijuana while the B.C. government dodges the question by repeating the mantra that it is focused on jobs and family. But it is families that pay the price for broken communities and gang warfare.
The lessons of alcohol prohibition are directly relevant to the experience with marijuana. Just as with alcohol prohibition – which failed to suppress alcohol use, wasted police resources and turned ordinary citizens into criminals – under marijuana prohibition young people have consistently had easier access to pot than alcohol or cigarettes. And just like the emergence of the violent illegal market controlled by gangsters like Al Capone in the 1920s, marijuana prohibition has similarly fueled the growth of organized crime.
The RCMP in British Columbia has consistently highlighted the violent methods that biker gangs and other organized crime groups use to control the trade in marijuana and other drugs. In one recent report, they said the drug trade in B.C. includes “homicides, contract killings, kidnappings, vicious ordered assaults, extortion and arson [which]continues to be the hallmark of all levels of the drug economy.”
In 2009, there were no fewer than 276 incidents of drive-by shootings in B.C., which, the RCMP added, often occurred without regard for public safety.
Recently, we wrote an open letter to elected leaders in British Columbia urging them to join us as part of a new coalition called Stop the Violence BC, which is attempting to “break the silence” regarding the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition. The coalition, which consists of leading legal, law enforcement and public health experts, has called for a strictly regulated legal market for adult marijuana use as a strategy to address the ineffectiveness and serious harms of marijuana prohibition.
Not only could this strategy raise hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, experts believe that employing the regulatory tools and educational strategies that have pushed down rates of tobacco use could also reduce rates of marijuana use. While marijuana is illegal, none of those effectively regulatory tools are policy options.
While it is true that drug laws are a federal issue, the need for provincial leadership has never been greater. After all, it is the provinces that will be on the hook for the billions of dollars that will be required to house an increased prison population and pay for other measures under the federal government’s proposed mandatory minimum sentencing legislation. Even though mandatory minimum sentences have unequivocally failed to address the drug problem south of the border, the B.C. provincial government has voiced support for the proposed federal omnibus crime bill which includes mandatory minimum prison sentences for anyone caught with more than five marijuana plants.
The federal and provincial governments should heed the words of the Fraser Institute, a conservative-leaning think-tank that opposes marijuana prohibition and laments the fact that marijuana-related revenue and profits go straight to criminal enterprises rather than government coffers.
Politicians at all levels – whether in government or opposition – can no longer ignore the violence, crime and financial costs to taxpayers related to marijuana prohibition. By taxing and regulating marijuana under a strict public health framework, politicians can help stop the growth of a massive underground economy that enriches gangsters rather than the public purse and does nothing to prevent young people from easily accessing marijuana. Politicians must act, now, before billions more are foolishly spent and further blood is shed.
It’s time politicians recognize that prohibition has been with us for 103 years, and ask themselves, “How are we doing so far?”
– Article from The National Post.