City of Vancouver calls for legalizing marijuana

The City of Vancouver has released a draft plan titled “Preventing Harm from Psychoactive Drug Use” which, among other things, calls for a regulated approach to the marijuana industry. The plan, two years in the making, contains policy recommendations across a variety of areas but sees the legalization of marijuana as an important first step in overall drug policy reform.
Getting high is normal

The plan begins by acknowledging what we already know: not all psychoactive drug use is harmful. In fact, the plan quotes BC Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall’s admonition that “[we]need to recognize that it’s not deviant or pathological for humans to desire to alter their consciousness with psychoactive substances. They’ve been doing it since pre-history?and it can be in a religious context, it can be in a social context, or it can be in the context of symptom management.” In other words, wanting to get high is natural.

The City, to its credit, recognizes this basic fact ? lots of people want to smoke cannabis. More than half the population (52.5%) in fact. So instead of forcing those people to turn to the black market, with all the harms that causes, the city proposes to implement a regulatory framework.

A regulated market

According to the City: “A regulated market is a legal market for legal psychoactive substances with regulations that intervene to prevent open access to drugs. Regulated markets are only possible when the substance is no longer prohibited under law.” This, of course, makes perfect sense. You are simply unable regulate illegal markets. By continuing to push prohibition, governments are basically giving up control of the situation.

A problem recognized by the City is that, when you give up control, you give it up to the wrong people. Instead of people concerned about growing high-quality cannabis, you attract people that care primarily about profits. And this presents problems, as Vancouver recognizes: “Regulated markets, this plan argues, are the most practical way to control markets for psychoactive substances. They ensure that the substances themselves are produced according to established standards, whereas in the current environment substances have unknown strengths, level of purity and toxic additives.” Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to buy different strains of locally grown, organic cannabis at your neighborhood cafe ? all with descriptive and accurate labels?

The City of Vancouver plan is a comprehensive approach to drug policy. It contains twenty-four recommendations. The one that cannabis fans should be most interested is number 20: “Recommendation: That the Federal Government implement further legislative changes to create a legal regulatory framework for cannabis in order to enable municipalities to develop comprehensive cannabis strategies that promote public health objectives, include appropriate regulatory controls for cannabis based products, and support the development of public education approaches to cannabis use and related harm based on best evidence.”

What next?

The City’s plan is in draft form and should be debated over the next few months. It is anticipated that the final version will be voted on in January, 2006. For cannabis reformers, the draft plan is a great way to begin to lobby your municipal governments to follow Vancouver’s example and call on Ottawa to end the failed and harmful prohibition of marijuana. Working together with local governments, we can convince Parliament that Canada must take a leadership role in enacting progressive approaches to cannabis law.