Medical Cannabis: Recriminalizing the Underground
Attention Canadians! Let’s face the puzzling issue of decriminalized cannabis. The current laws burden the justice system, jails and society. We are left paying yet another bill for the policing, trials, and prison time. In numerous ways, smoke is being blown in our face.
Cannabis is labeled as a narcotic, equating it with heroin, cocaine and crack. This is like listing both Dickens and Penthouse under the same category of literature. Cannabis is not physically addictive nor is it known to incite riots, let alone a squabble. If smoking a joint causes less damage than downing a bottle of beer, how did cannabis become so reviled?
Cannabis has never killed anyone, while all other illegal drugs kill around 800 people a year. Meanwhile, the terminal diseases we get from legally sanctioned substances such as tobacco (killing 45,000 people a year) and alcohol (12,000) are acceptable. Then there’s the health system killing over 106,000 people each year with adverse drug reactions. Even aspirin causes over 10,000 hospital admission in Canada each year. Yet, pot is the devil.
The War on Drugs has been fought since the Eighties when Ronald Reagan laid down the law. As a result, between 1980 and 2002 more prisons were built as the number of prisoners tripled, the majority for drug violations. Canada alone has over 600,000 citizens with criminal records for marijuana possession. How many prison cells can that fill?
Cannabis is traded for with narcotics and weapons in an underground barter system. It is a pawn in the drug war, cultivated here and shipped to the States. The Canada-US border surveillance unnecessarily focuses on marijuana rather than these more lethal dangers. If we made this ‘currency’ legally available, bought and tendered over the counter like cigarettes, the criminal world would be less able to trade narcotics into the country. It would be like trading aspirin for cocaine.
Each busted grow-op reported is a mere snowflake on the tip of an iceberg when taken on a national scale. The drug busters would go broke taking them all down. On the other side of the legal fence, a busted grow op removes competition and opens up more ground to expand operations. It provides more market power for the survivor.
Unlike the other targeted illegal drugs, cannabis provides actual medical benefits. In Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser writes how “Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, provides evidence that smoking cannabis can relieve the nausea associated with chemotherapy, prevent blindness induced by glaucoma, serve as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients, act as an anti-epileptic, ward off asthma attacks and migraine headaches, alleviate chronic pain, and reduce the muscle spasticity that accompanies multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and paraplegia.” Not bad for a villain.
Legalizing marijuana benefits society two-fold: First, it incapacitates the underground economy dependent on its sale. Second, the taxes collected from the legal crop could fund the battle against and treatment for narcotics. Better yet, provide funds for mental health services and start taking out the real victims of the drug trade. To turn our backs on this cash crop, we waste tax money on a war that is building up the enemy rather than taking us any nearer to an end.
Our safety depends on our focus on people affected by the problem rather than those selling pot on the corner. Self-medication is prevalent on the street, and should be seen as an indication of a damaged community, not a nuisance to cover up. And community problems are easier to fix than global ones.
Places where cannabis has been legalized have not fallen into disrepair as the doomsayers say. Rather, their citizens grow up respecting its use, similar to how alcohol was accepted after Prohibition ended. Not everybody drinks alcohol, but it’s available.
It’s time to blow away the smoke and demand a justice system that enhances society and reduces crime. Legalize marijuana so that authorities can start cracking down on substances that really are killing us: narcotics.
Originally written: January 2, 2006
 Mulgrew, Ian, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, Canada) 191
 Mate, Gabor, MD,In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (Toronto, Knopf Canada, 2008) 275
Mulgrew, Ian, Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry (Random House, Canada) 190
 Schlosser, Erik, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market (New York, Mariner, 2004) 16