Opinion Editorial – by Andrew Shaw

The third reading of C-45 is passed and the ‘Yays’ have it – Now it’s a time of deep thought for policy makers.

Listening to the third reading of C-45 in the senate – it’s clear to me our sober-second-thinkers have been sincerely trying to wrap their heads around the whole business of marijuana and its relationship to our great Canadian society.[1]

It was also clear by the language being fumbled that some of our conservative senators are in the minority in terms of their exposure to ‘grassroots’ culture and the use of cannabis for recreational escapism – sounding challenged to find a rightful place for cannabis in our current mix of socially-acceptable stimulants.

One particular naysayer used the marketing slogan “Just Say No” as their commentary punchline, right before their time ran out. The fact is that’s the voice of The War on Drugs talking, not a Canadian thought – but actually a nostalgic ideology forged by US drug policy – from which C-45 marks a stark course of departure.

If you’re a millennial reading this, “Just Say No” was an advertising campaign, part of the U.S. “War on Drugs” prevalent during the 1980s and early 1990s, to discourage children from engaging in illegal recreational drug use by offering various ways of saying no. The slogan was created and championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan during her husband’s presidency.[2]

The War on Drugs is an American term usually applied to the U.S. federal government’s campaign of prohibition of drugs, military aid, and military intervention, with the stated aim being to reduce the illegal drug trade.[3]

In Canada Marijuana was criminalized in 1923, but why?

According to the CBC’s website –

“Parliament added marijuana to a list of prescribed drugs in 1923. No explanation was given for why they criminalized smoking pot. That happened in 1923, and if there was any kind of parliamentary debate, historians have been unable to find a record of it.”

“When Parliament decided to add marijuana to the schedule of prescribed drugs that year, Canada became one of the first countries to make smoking pot illegal. The U.S. didn’t accomplish that until 14 years later, in the midst of the Great Depression.” [4]

.. And now we’re among the first nations to begin the process of full legalization, effectively reversing course from a law that was questionably on the books since 1923.

With a history of being a prohibited substance; Cannabis use has fundamentally been a risk-based personal decision. It always was, and still will be; even long after it’s been legalized. With legalization, instead of consumers risking jail and impact to their mental health, now they can just focus on mental wellness, becoming free of the fear and anxiety of being arrested in the first place, which is certainly a great start.

Heavy equipment operators, pilots, engineers, athletes and other high-risk and high-performance professions will still be subject to drug-free employee policies, whereas not-so-much for artists, musicians, painters, comedians, filmmakers, designers and others who don’t have those same occupational constraints – for these cultural producers it has an array of artistic benefits, before we even get into the medical and therapeutic indications, of which there are many.

Prohibitionist cannabis policies have resulted in disproportionate incarcerations of certain racial groups, which is undeniably unjust, and the harm they perpetuate on low income and ethnic families will be greatly mitigated by this movement to recreational legalization.

Bringing recreational cannabis use out of the shadows and into the light has a tremendous effect on our societies ability to study it properly, develop better social education, establish and enforce quality controls and fund risk reduction programs.

Folks who decry the potential harms of cannabis miss the fact these same harms already affect the very same population group that will continue to consume it after it is legalized and regulated. The argument about harm reduction and awareness is valid, but I believe will actually be better managed through health and education, versus policing and law enforcement.

The truth is your doctor, lawyer, cab driver, school teacher and senator across the isle will continue to use it discreetly, like they already do… except your company barbeques might just get more interesting, as the social norm shifts into the wide open, and you begin to discover how many normal people around you consume cannabis for recreational purposes.

The cannabis policy chasm we’re about to cross together is a mental shock to many people entrenched in last centuries prohibitionist thinking after years of exposure to anti-drug propaganda and well meaning public service announcements.

Thankfully progressive minds are working hard to create a serious drug policy framework for a better society, starting with properly moving substance abuse into the realm of mental health, instead of criminal behaviour.

One point that stands out among the debate is the coming shift of economic burden from justice to health, which will need to be supported with additional policy development and targeted program funding, but I truly believe this is the right and socially responsible thing to do, after hearing the debate for myself.

Prior to the vote the chorus of last resistance was in demand for more clarity on the mental health impacts of cannabis, plus there were an array of well spoken advocates for native rights to be permitted to self govern on this policy, whether to gain equal or unfettered access to markets, or also to opt-out and maintain local prohibitions like how alcohol is treated, as they might see fit.

Also of note, C-45 will make it permissible for youths between ages 12-17 to carry 5 grams of cannabis without legal repercussions.

Although the idea of any good youth drug policy is ‘keeping it out of the hands of kids’ we know it’s already ubiquitous in teenage youth populations – and this was true well before ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ made it seem popular – back when I was a kid.

The benefits of legalization and regulation are many-fold besides tax revenues, specifically public health protections including standards of packaging, ingredient disclosures, inspections and product safety, medical consistency and reliability – just to name a few.

The hangers-on to old thinking are still painting in broad strokes with fear-based brushes – claiming the Liberal C-45 marijuana bill is being ‘rushed’… and that it’s ‘too much, too fast.

Although it may seem like its happening quickly, the debate on decriminalizing cannabis goes way back.  There has been tremendous harm to certain communities by the criminalizing of cannabis possession, and the resulting jail time further exposes that group to risks of increased poverty by limiting employment opportunities and other social stigma that comes from having a criminal record.

For these social groups, cannabis reform hasn’t come fast enough.

The declared numbers of Canadians who admit to consuming cannabis regularly are staggering in terms of percentage of population… and that’s if you believe people answer surveys honestly when being asked if they’ll admit to something illegal – so my guess says it’s a lot higher.

How many people use Cannabis in Canada?

According to The University of Ottawa’s website the estimates of cannabis usage in Canada is as follows although the report author admits clearly these may not be accurate; as they were taken from several sources, including the 2002 Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs; the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; and the Marijuana Party of Canada [3]

  • Estimated number of marijuana users in Canada: 3 million
  • Average age of introduction to marijuana: 15 years old
  • Number of people aged 12 – 17 who use daily: 225,000
  • 10% of regular users develop dependency
  • Annual Canadian consumption: 770,000 kg.
  • Annual production: 2.6 million kg.
  • Amount of domestic production consumed in Canada: 30%
  • Number of grow operations: 215,000
  • Number of people employed in grow operations: 500,000
  • Price of 1 ounce of top grade product (enough to produce 20-50 joints): $250
  • Annual number of arrests for all offenses concerning illegal drugs: 90,000
  • Number of reported marijuana offenses (1999): 35,000
  • Number of reported marijuana offenses in 2001: 71,600 (70% for possession)
  • Annual cost of enforcing marijuana laws (police and courts): $500 million
  • Estimated annual costs associated with substance abuse in Canada:
    • $1.4 billion for illegal drugs;
    • $7.5 billion for alcohol; and
    • $9.6 billion for tobacco.

FOOTNOTE on the Article Title –

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

Just like in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy In the radio series and novel by Douglas Adams, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose.

It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Question was.[6]

Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42 when writing the book. Adams described his choice as ‘a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it’s the sort of number that you could without any fear introduce to your parents.’[6]

I believe the 3rd reading of C-45 fulfilled the importance of asking the right questions, and if you missed it – you can find the audio recording online at ParlVU.

If you want to listen to the C-45 3rd reading visit this link:
http://senparlvu.parl.gc.ca/XRender/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20180607/-1/7749

To learn what happens next:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/pot-bill-passes-senate-1.4697124

SOURCE REFERENCES

[1] http://senparlvu.parl.gc.ca/XRender/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20180607/-1/7749
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_drugs
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_Say_No
[4] http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/marijuana-was-criminalized-in-1923-but-why-1.2630436
[5] https://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/Marijuana_e.htm
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Answer_to_the_Ultimate_Question_of_Life,_the_Universe,_and_Everything_(42)

Photo credit: Canada’s Senate Chamber; By Mightydrake – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5704821