Dear Ross

“Take heed of crafty politicians and subtle Machiavellians, and be sure to trust no man’s painted words; it being high time now to see actions…”

The Levellers, “From a Call to All the Soldiers of the Army By the Free People of England”, 1647

“You’d just have to be as strong as they are and show – make them prove they are experts, and don’t let it lie once the thing’s out. Get on and push and push on every TV, radio, everything you’ve got and keep the questions going. Don’t let it hang in a report and leave it.”

John Lennon, December 22, 1969, testifying in favor of cannabis legalization at Canada’s Le Dain Commission

I heard recently that Ross Rebagliati is running for the Liberals in Conservative Stockwell Day’s riding. Since this is his first foray into politics I thought I would bestow upon him some unsolicited advice in the hopes that he would take full advantage of my many years of interacting with politicians and studying the way they have managed to avoid cannabis law reform for the last 40 years:

Dear Ross,

I hear you are running for Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party of Canada and that you favor the legalization of marijuana. Undoubtedly you will encounter some resistance from your fellow Liberals, from the handlers they send to help with your campaign, from your campaign contributors, from concerned parents, from conservative members of your constituency, and from those in most of the parties you are running against. I have taken the liberty of listing most of today’s objections to re-legalizing cannabis, and then what I consider to be an intelligent response to each.

#1: “Cannabis leads to psychosis and/or schizophrenia.”

Since the 1950s, cannabis use rates have steadily risen while psychosis rates have remained static, casting doubt on the link between the two. Though there has been a lot of misinformation pushed by the media, current science says studies have ultimately failed to “distinguish the direction of association between cannabis use and psychosis.”

#2: “Cannabis smoking can cause cancer.”

There are no individuals on record who suffered from lung cancer, emphysema, or black lung disease as a result of solely smoking cannabis, according to Dr. Donald Tashkin, North America’s foremost expert on cannabis and cancer.

#3: “Cannabis smoking is responsible for large numbers of emergency room visits and drug treatment admissions.”

While cannabis overdose results in trips to the emergency room, nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose. Many of these visits are a result of poly drug use or non-drug problems, when cannabis was simply mentioned but not the cause of the visit.

There is evidence to suggest as little as 3% of those in treatment for cannabis addiction are there voluntarily. Withdrawal symptoms from cannabis, if there are any at all, are remarkably mild.

#4: “Cannabis dealing leads to violence and funds terrorism.”

Violence and terror-funding are a result of cannabis prohibition and not an inherent factor in cannabis sales, per se. There’s no evidence that a regulated cannabis market would be connected with any more violence than the current coffee bean market is today. Violence connected with alcohol prohibition disappeared immediately after alcohol was re-legalized.

#5: “The strong cannabis of today leads to amotivational syndrome.”

There is little evidence that today’s pot is any stronger than yesterday’s. Even if this was true, hashish has always been strong and it’s been around for over 1000 years. There are currently well over 3 million regular cannabis users in Canada, and very few of them are amotivated. A large percentage of writers, artists, athletes, and professionals use cannabis in ways that enhance their performance. For example, Michael Phelps, the Olympian with the most gold medals ever, has used cannabis.

#6: “Using cannabis can lead to using harder drugs.”

It is the black market that lumps soft and hard drugs together, not the effects of cannabis. Most users of cannabis do not go on to using other illegal drugs.

#7: “The effects of cannabis are more safely experienced with legally prescribed pharmaceuticals such as Sativex spray, or the synthetic cannabis substitute Marinol.”

Smoked cannabis is easier to titrate (control the dosage of) than orally ingested cannabis such as pharmaceuticals or brownies because smoked cannabis takes 1 to 5 minutes to take effect and orally ingesting cannabis takes 20 to 40 minutes to take effect. In other words, it’s easier to avoid overdosing with smoked cannabis.

#8: “The Liberals already have a plan to decriminalize cannabis possession, which is a policy that enjoys more public support than full legalization.”

The Liberal bill currently in the form of a Private Member’s Bill from Keith Martin has been put forward again and again by the Liberal Party for almost 40 years, ever since the Le Dain Commission recommend fully legalizing cannabis in 1972. Most conservatives, including the conservative wing of the Liberal party, see it as too liberal a move, while most Canadians are opposed to the plan when they learn it could lead to an increase in arrests and incarcerations for unpaid fines as it has in other countries. The proposed fines include $1000 for the third subsequent arrest, which could lead to two weeks in jail for an unpaid fine at the current rate. Currently the majority of Canadians favor the legalization and regulation of cannabis, and they have held this position for several years. When the Senate report came out in 2002, it recommended the full legalization of cannabis possession, sales, and cultivation, calling decriminalization the worst possible option.

#9: “International treaties prevent Canada from legalizing cannabis.”

Holland has signed every treaty that Canada has signed and yet it enjoys regulated cannabis sales in over 700 cannabis coffee shops.

#10: “The US government would never permit Canada to legalize cannabis.”

Currently, there are several US states with citizens’ initiatives calling for the full legalization of cannabis sales. Canada has led the way in the moral evolution of North America: ending slavery, giving women the vote, banning DDT, ending alcohol prohibition, banning the death penalty, and refusing to invade Iraq, all before the US or against its wishes. Considering the US just voted an admitted pot smoker the President, there has never been a better time to legalize cannabis.

A final word of advice: since the invention of politicians, there has been corruption and betrayal of the people, but there still exists hope inside people’s hearts that someone will get elected who will ignore the interests of the rich and powerful and represent the wishes of the people.

I have no doubt, Ross, that you will get elected; if you want to get re-elected, or better yet, make it to Prime Minister, ignore all your handlers and don’t be afraid to push for what you know in your heart to be the right thing. It will be like a breath of fresh air, and the Canadian people will be there to support you on Election Day. If you want a crash-course on cannabis, I recommend watching the film, The Union. If you have any further questions please email me at [email protected]

David Malmo-Levine is a Vancouver marijuana activist incarcerated at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, BC, for his establishment of the Vancouver Herb School. Please click here and here for more information on David’s case. Read David’s blog on Cannabis Culture and watch his Pot-TV show High Society.