End Marijuana Prohibition To Serve and Protect The Public

CANNABIS CULTURE – I’m honoured, and very happy, to be asked to blog for Cannabis Culture. Thanks so much to Jeremiah and Jodie for this opportunity! I believe that drug policy reform is one of the most important political issues in Canada and the world today, but I have never had the chance to talk about it with more than a few people at a time.

Although blogging for CC amounts to preaching to the choir in some ways, my contribution will not be “more of the same”. If there is a subculture that centres upon using cannabis – and the title “Cannabis Culture” certainly implies that there is – I am clearly not part of it. I take a puff or two from my girlfriend’s medicinal joint (it helps her sleep and deal with arthritis) and that’s about it. My own favourite drugs come from Belgium or from Chambly in Quebec, and they are kept in the fridge until I drink them.

Partly because of this, I think that my viewpoint on legalization is partly different from most of the people who read, or are involved with, this magazine. We all agree that cannabis should be legalized, of course. But some of our reasons are probably not the same, and understanding the difference is valuable.

Why? Because, in order to achieve legalization, people who are in the cannabis culture need to persuade people who aren’t. These are people who do not care at all about cannabis, or who think it is dangerous. These are people who haven’t used it and aren’t interested in using it, or who have tried it and did not like the effects. Those are people who call it “marijuana”, and are not even sure how to spell that. Those are people who have steady, unremarkable lives, 9-to-5 jobs and minivans, kids who take music lessons and then go to university, and no experience at all in chaining themselves to trees, marching on the streets, or getting spiritually awakened.

In short, these are people who are an awful lot like me.

Yes, I am part of that culture. I have worked as a cubicle drone in big companies since 1980, and I still do. My first employer was Procter & Gamble, whose corporate culture and ethos was so 1950’s square that it made Lawrence Welk look like Janis Joplin. Hell, those guys made Queen Victoria look like Janis Joplin. I myself believed in the prohibition of cannabis and other drugs until well past the age of 35. Yet I learned that I was completely wrong, and that our society urgently needs to legalize cannabis and all other drugs.

If I can learn, so can anyone else. The people who do not agree with us yet are the people we need to persuade. Because most of my attitudes come from their side of the fence, I can help us to do that.

The first thing to understand is this: People like me don’t care about cannabis. We don’t care whether or not it is good for anyone’s physical or mental health. In fact, far too many of us think that it is addictive and very dangerous. But you do not need to change our minds about cannabis in order to persuade us to support legalization. In fact, trying to change our minds about whether it is dangerous or not is a waste of breath.

The only thing that you really need to get through our thick skulls is this: Whether cannabis is wonderful or awful, there are many people who choose to use it, and there always will be. The demand for cannabis, or any other drug, has practically nothing to do with whether it is legal or illegal. Nor does legality affect the dangerousness of a drug: Bourbon whiskey, properly distilled, is just as awful today as it was in the 1920s, when it was prohibited. But because there are always people who want to use cannabis (or Jack Daniels), someone will always be able to make money by providing it.

That is the starting point for a discussion with people who don’t care about cannabis, or who don’t like it. Don’t bother trying to convince them that cannabis is not as nasty as they think. All they need to realize is that some people always want to use it. When that is true, it necessarily and always follows that some people can, and will, make money by supplying it.

Because there is money to be made, prohibiting the drug, whatever it is, will not stop the supply. This point is the heart of the entire discussion. Your most important task, almost your only task, is to show that prohibition does not do the one and only thing that it is meant to do. It’s not easy, because people who are scared of cannabis and other drugs really want to believe that prohibition will work. And it sounds as if it should: Don’t criminal punishments discourage people from doing things?

Yes, criminal punishments discourage some people. But what they also do is increase the price and profitability of whatever is prohibited, and other people react to those profits. In the end, the profits outweigh the punishments, and prohibition increases supply more than it reduces it. That’s why nations like the Netherlands and Portugal, where some aspects of drug prohibition are not enforced, have lower drug usage rates than the United States. That’s why 40 years of intense prohibition efforts in the US have led to an enormous increase in the quantity and purity of drugs on the street.

Once you show the people who are outside the cannabis culture that prohibition does not reduce the supply or usage of cannabis, the argument is over and you have won – even if they still think that cannabis is addictive, dangerous and has no medical value. Because if prohibition does not reduce supply or usage, then prohibition changes only two things: who gets the profits, and how the market operates. Under prohibition, the profits (which prohibition inflates) are reserved exclusively for criminals, gangs and terrorists. Under prohibition, the market is managed with guns, car bombs, machetes and chainsaws, and cannot be controlled by any regulations. Those are the true effects of prohibition, and there are no others.

This is where we must concentrate our arguments, from now until legalization is achieved. The fact that cannabis is less addictive and less dangerous than other drugs is unimportant. The medicinal benefits of cannabis are interesting, but not very important either. What is important is that prohibition enriches gangsters and creates crime.

Our message must be clear and uncompromising: Every politician who supports prohibition supports the Mexican drug cartels and the Hell’s Angels. Every politician who supports prohibition creates crime in our streets. Public safety requires legalization.

Steve Finlay is a civilian member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and serves as the Secretary-Treasurer of LEAP Canada.