Keeping Pot Illegal Leads To Bad Brew

As federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson puts it, coffee is “the currency that is used to bring other more serious drugs into the country.”

Accordingly, the government has tabled legislation to, among other things, impose one-year mandatory jail time for selling coffee.

Oops . . . did I say coffee? How embarrassing. Of course, it’s quite ridiculous to suggest that we would criminalize the sale or consumption of coffee. Oh sure, prohibiting the sale of coffee would immediately make it the purview of organized crime, thus making it a “currency” of sorts. No doubt such criminal elements would employ violent tactics in obtaining and protecting supply and territory.

Fortunately, such a scenario is confined to the vivid imagination — no one for a moment would dare suggest including caffeine alongside other illegal drugs. But what makes caffeine an unlikely candidate for criminalization is an honest assessment of what it is and the impact of its consumption.

What the federal justice minister was actually referring to was a different drug: marijuana. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to equate caffeine with marijuana. Nor, however, would I equate caffeine with alcohol or nicotine. Such determinations are, of course, largely evidence-based.

By the same standards, it would be foolish to lump marijuana in with cocaine or heroin. The only basis for such a comparison is the fact that all three are illegal. So therefore, by this logic, if we were to ban caffeine it could then be equated with cocaine and heroin.

In other words, it becomes a circular and irrational argument: why is marijuana illegal? Because it’s dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because it’s illegal.

Which brings us back to Minister Nicholson. In describing marijuana as a “currency” for harder drugs and suggesting it “lubricates” the business of the underworld, he is absolutely right — we’ve made it that way. The same would be true of illegal coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes.

Instead, Nicholson is in-advertently making the case against his government’s own policy: marijuana is a threat, but that threat has nothing to do with marijuana. Therefore, the rationale becomes the rationale: we need to get tough on marijuana because its illegal.

I can appreciate that in lieu of an actual conservative agenda, a tough law-and-order approach can help satisfy the hunger of a most famished conservative base. Certain elements of that approach are commendable: there is much wrong with our justice system and it’s encouraging to see a government willing to address that.

And contrary to some of the government’s many critics, there are certain areas of crime that are getting worse, even though overall crime would seem to be on the decrease. We have seen increases in gang violence and violent youth crime — two areas this government has singled out for attention.

However, it is drug prohibition which is at the root of so much of the violence we are trying to address. Which then begs the question: does “getting tough on crime”mean we want less crime or merely more criminals on whom we can “get tough”? The government’s ongoing commitment to the war on drugs would seem to ensure that it’s the latter.

It is time for a rethink. More of the same policy only means more of the same result on the streets. A good place to start would be the private members bill tabled by Liberal MP Keith Martin which would decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalization does not go far enough, however. A bolder approach would be to revisit the 2002 report of the Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs which recommended the legalization of marijuana.

Any honest assessment of marijuana should indicate that it belongs not alongside cocaine and heroin, but rather alongside alcohol and tobacco: legal, regulated, and restricted to adults.

And if we really want to stop marijuana from being used as a “currency” by organized crime, then the simplest and most logical means by which to do so is to take it out of their realm.

In defending this new bill, Nicholson argued that Canadians remain confused about the legal status of smoking marijuana. What confuses me is why the government remains intent on pursuing an illogical and counterproductive course of action.

Rob Breakenridge Hosts The World Tonight, Weeknights From 6:30 — 9P.m. On AM770 CHQR

– Article from Calgary Herald on April 28, 2009.