“There’s one smoking a joint and another with spots. If I had my way, I’d have all of you shot.”
– Pink Floyd, “In The Flesh” from The Wall
“I’m an old man and may not live to see a final solution of the drug problem.”
– William S. Burroughs in the film Drug Store Cowboy
I’ve heard all the arguments against using the term genocide to describe the drug war: that this term should only be used to describe mass murder, that using it turns people off and prevents them from listening to what you have to say, and that it discredits the movement.
These arguments remain unconvincing, especially if you know the origin and true meaning of the word genocide and fully understand the harmful potential of the Conservative Party of Canada’s Bill C-15 and the Liberals’ Bill C-359.
The word genocide was coined by a Jewish-Polish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin. He had fought the Nazis as a member of the Polish Army in WWII then escaped to the USA to begin work constructing a new law to prevent the holocaust, or scapegoating similar to it, from occurring again.
His work lead to the creation of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (entered into force on 12 January 1951). You could tell he was interested in preventing not only the death camps and gas chambers, but all the steps that led up to such things, because his first draft of the treaty was to include ‘forced assimilation’ into the definition of genocide.
The current official definition, found in the 1951 treaty does include “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Another clue to genocide’s true meaning is to break it up and examine each morpheme individually. ‘Cide’ means to kill, as in homicide or suicide. Genus does not mean a large number, but a type or kind. In other words, genocide literally means destroying a characteristic within a type or kind of people – the thing about them that makes them unique – rather than just killing large numbers of people.
In my opinion, the Conservatives’ Bill C-15 was designed to destroy the cannabis growers and cannabis dealers of Canada. Not by killing the growers and dealers (though several countries, like Malaysia and Vietnam, still give the death penalty to marijuana traffickers), but by giving the police a tool they can use to attack compassion clubs, seed-dealer activists, and those who sponsor activists.
Though Bill C-15 died when Stephen Harper prorogued the Canadian Parliament, a similar bill will surely be back again soon; probably when the Conservatives have a stronger grip on the Senate. Bill C-15 included mandatory minimum jail sentences for growing as few as one plant, and a host of other harsh measures that Conservatives have already vowed to bring back.
They will probably go after the activists first, that way by the time all those new prisons are built, there will be no spokespeople or independent compassion clubs or seed dealer-sponsored media that could be used to organized any resistance.
In my opinion, the decrim bill that the Liberals have been trying to pass for the last 15 years, the one that keeps popping up again and again in the form of the House of Commons Report of 2003, or what Jean Chrétien or Hedy Fry suggested, or what Keith Martin keeps talking about – now called Bill C-359, will be designed to slowly but surely force more and more cannabis users into jail for unpaid fines or force them into treatment, as well as another weapon to attack compassion clubs, bring your own bud cafes and pot rallies.
I’ve written in detail about the tendency of most decrim laws to net-widen and target concentrated populations of pot smokers in my Cannabis Culture article, “DESCRIMinalization: Decrim Myths, Decrim Facts“.
When one takes an honest look at the destructive potential of these mandatory minimum and decriminalization laws, keeping in mind how they are most often used in the USA, one must conclude that they are designed to destroy the cannabis community as a whole, thus qualifying as genocide under the 1951 treaty.
It is not just brave artists like William S. Burroughs and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters who have compared the Drug War to other genocides, policy analysts such as Thomas Szas, author of Ceremonial Chemistry, as well as Richard Henry Miller, author of The Drug Warriors and Their Pray, and activists such as Abbie Hoffman,, author of Steal This Urine Test, have all made such comparisons.
I suggest all activists watch these shows and examine the evidence with Bill C-15 and C-359 in mind.
Genocide must no longer be mentioned only after it is too late to do anything about it. More importantly, we must not let the scapegoaters of today get away with their forced assimilation, their Gentle Genocide, just because they have figured out a way to destroy who we are without killing our bodies.
For a more detailed analysis of the legal definition, check out the “Supreme BS” thread in the Cannabis Culture Forums.
David Malmo-Levine is currently serving a six-month prison sentence in British Columbia for his unique form of cannabis activism. Click here and here to read more about David’s case. Read more from David on his CC blog.