The National Post newspaper asked me to write an OpEd about marijuana legalization. It’s one of only two cross-Canada newspapers, and the more right-leaning of the two; it’s the paper our Conservative government reads. I was honoured and accepted the opportunity to reach the audience they have.
I haven’t written an OpEd (opinion editorial) before, so it was a new challenge and it took me some time to narrow down the focus – because as we all know, “marijuana legalization” is an enormous topic. But the final result came out to my satisfaction, and I think I made my arguments clearly and persuasively.
Here is my letter as it appeared in print Thursday:
April 19, 2012 – 7:00 AM ET
What is the true cost of marijuana prohibition? After four decades of the war on drugs, none of its stated goals have been achieved. Gangs are richer, more powerful, increasingly violent and the availability and use of marijuana has only gone up.
Legal drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, do not finance organized crime. Instead, gangsters make billions from the illegal drug trade, while taxpayers lose a fortune in law enforcement, court and prison costs.
The Conservative government steadfastly promises to continue wasting more money and damaging more lives by expanding the same failed policy. Meanwhile, many high-profile Canadian professionals and experts have recently condemned cannabis prohibition and called for legalization, including provincial chief health officers, former mayors and attorneys-general.
These respected individuals are not campaigning for more drug use or endorsing organized crime. They know that prohibition has only empowered criminal organizations and made Canadians less safe, while tax dollars are endlessly spent with no positive results whatsoever.
But beyond the economic cost of keeping marijuana illegal, there is a human cost, as well.
A devastating civil rights crisis has been going on since U.S. president Richard Nixon famously declared that marijuana was “enemy number one” in the war on drugs. Police and prison budgets skyrocketed, resulting in millions of American citizens being sent to jail for harmless marijuana offences. Now the same policies are being implemented here in Canada.
Peaceful, non-violent citizens are at risk of being locked up, away from their families and friends, losing their jobs and homes, while being saddled with criminal records. People who have never hurt anyone else find themselves jailed for years, even decades, for cannabis crimes, with a hugely negative impact on families and communities.
When those people are imprisoned, they often leave behind children, siblings, parents and friends who suffer in their absence. While that person is in jail — costing taxpayers over $100,000 per year — their family members have to deal with the financial cost of hiring lawyers, going to court and losing a breadwinner. Their children lose the full parental guidance and support needed for a proper upbringing. Parents have to worry for the safety of their imprisoned children and deal with the stigma of having a family member in jail.
I know this cost in human suffering very well. My husband, Marc Emery, is in a medium-security U.S. federal prison, serving a five-year sentence for selling marijuana seeds through the mail. He used revenue from the seed sales to fund peaceful anti-prohibition campaigns and political activism from 1994 to 2005, advocating for legalization to end the violence and criminal control of the industry.
The Drug Enforcement Administration even boasted in a press release that his arrest was a “significant blow … to the marijuana legalization movement” and that “legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
My husband never hurt anyone, yet the government has caused harm to him, to me and to everyone who cares for him. The same thing happens every single day to each person arrested and imprisoned on marijuana charges. It costs a fortune to put them behind bars, but it also greatly diminishes any opportunities to contribute to society by working a normal job and paying taxes.
Even worse, most children of prisoners are likely to end up in prison themselves. It’s a destructive cycle of suffering and loss. Prohibition manufactures crime where none would otherwise exist.
It is morally unjust to make harmless people suffer, yet the government’s continued prohibition of cannabis has led to families being torn apart and peaceful people being warehoused with violent criminals. And still, marijuana continues to grow, the demand and supply never decreases and the illegal market keeps funding organized crime.
Advocates of legalization know that marijuana prohibition has failed. Politicians, police and anyone else who supports prohibition are supporting organized crime and the continued devastation of innocent lives and the communities they live in — at a price we simply cannot afford.
Jodie Emery is a public speaker, business owner political activist and the wife of Marc Emery. She is also the director of Cannabis Culture Headquarters, Cannabis Culture Magazine and Pot TV.