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Elliot Leven

Apples, Honey and Pot for Rosh Hashana 2014?

By Elliot Leven, August 18, 2013



[Editor's note: My alternative title for this article was "Will Justin Trudeau put the "High" into "High Holidays?]


Just in time for Rosh Hashana, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has come out in favor of the legalization of marijuana.  Trudeau’s unexpected announcement drew predictable, knee-jerk criticism for the federal Conservatives.  The federal NDP sticks to its long-held position that decriminalization but not legalization would be best. (“Decriminalization” essentially means treating marijuana possession like a parking ticket – it would not be legal, but there would be no criminal record involved.)

The idea of legalizing pot in Canada is not new.  In 1972, the Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical use of Drugs issued its final report. The commission included prominent legal and medical experts. The majority report recommended that possession of marijuana for personal use be removed from the criminal law.  The minority went farther and recommended that the provinces control and regulate the sale of marijuana to adults in much the same way as they control alcohol. 

The Le Dain Report contained persuasive arguments.  It pointed out that treating marijuana possession as a crime was not reducing pot use. On the contrary, use was increasing. It pointed out that keeping pot illegal ensured that it would be sold by organized crime and that buyers would have to interact with organized crime. It pointed out that keeping pot illegal led to reduced respect for the law in general.

Though the Le Dain Report was logical and rational, it was too controversial for 1972, so Pierre Trudeau and others allowed it to gather dust. In his final days as Prime Minister, Paul Martin introduced a bill in Parliament that would have decriminalized possession of very small amounts of pot, but the bill died when the government fell.  Stephen Harper has made it crystal clear that he will never decriminalize or legalize pot.

The Conservatives’ blind opposition to marijuana law reform shows the Tories at their most ideological and least rational.  The Le Dain Commission’s cogent arguments are even more persuasive today than they were in 1972.  Recent polls show that 57 per cent of Canadians favor marijuana legalization today.

The arguments made by the war-on-drugs ideologues are so illogical that it is hard to believe that they can make them with a straight face. They argue that smoking pot is bad for your health.  It’s true that smoking anything is bad for your lungs, but eating fast food twice a week (as many people do) is much worse for your health than smoking pot a few times a year.  The criminal law is the most powerful weapon in government’s arsenal. It should be reserved for the most serious threats to health, not for trivial ones.

War-on-drugs types argue that driving stoned is dangerous.  That is obviously true, but driving drunk is even more dangerous, and yet alcohol is legal.  Having learned from the abysmal failure of Prohibition that trying to make booze illegal is futile and counter-productive, government now regulates the production and sale of alcohol to adults.  At the same time, it uses the criminal law and public education to address drunk driving. 

The prohibition of marijuana is just as counter-productive today as the prohibition of alcohol once was.  Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  By that definition, today’s marijuana laws are insane.

War-on-drugs types argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug”.  They say that most hard-drug users have tried marijuana.  They fail to see the logical fallacy in this argument.  Most hard-drug users have tried apple pie. Does that mean that apple pie is a “gateway drug”? For that matter, 100% of hard-drug users drink water. Does that make water a “gateway drug”?  The ideologues are confusing coincidence with causation.

War-on-drugs types argue that legalization would increase access to pot by young people.  It is tempting to reply simply: “How is that possible?  Access by young people is already near 100%.”  The reality is that marijuana is easily available in every high school in Canada.  If pot were sold in government liquor stores to those with photo identification, at least there would be more control over access by children than there is today.  There would obviously be some under-age pot use, just as there is some under-age alcohol use today.  But some controls are better than none at all.

There is some recent evidence that heavy pot smoking might increase the risk of schizophrenia in some young people. Again, the status quo simply guarantees that young people will have easy access to pot.  Again, some photo-identification controls (however imperfect) would be better than none at all.

War-on-drugs types like to posture as being “tough on crime”.  The humour escapes them. The biggest beneficiary of the marijuana status quo is organized crime.  Legalization and government control would, at a stroke, remove billions of dollars from the pockets of organized criminals.

Which brings us to the economic argument.  Legalization would be combined with taxation. Even if governments did not create specific taxes on marijuana, legal marijuana sales would be subject to sales taxes.  That would put billions of extra dollars into government coffers.  Employees to grow, transport and sell legal pot would be needed. Those employees would pay income taxes.  Also, police and courts would no longer have to waste their time on dealing with marijuana. Some provincial governments would spend the new revenue more wisely than others, but at least governments would have new options.

Finally, as the Le Dain Commission observed, the status quo brings the law into disrespect.  Canadians are not stupid.  If they see that the criminal law is reserved for things like murder and assault and robbery, most of them will respect it. If they see that police spend their time preventing murders and arresting robbers, most of them will respect police. 

Most Canadians think that there is nothing morally wrong with possessing pot.  When they see that the law treats possession as a crime, and that police spend their time arresting such criminals, and that judges decree that such criminals are guilty (even if they get absolute discharges), Canadians have less respect for laws, police and courts in general. Legalization of marijuana would reduce this problem.

Which brings us to Rosh Hashana.  One of the common side effects of using marijuana is “the munchies”.  That is why medical marijuana is used as an appetite stimulant when necessary.  Increased marijuana use might lead to increased consumption of delicious foods of all kinds.  If Justin Trudeau gets his way, maybe Canadian Jews will have to stock up on extra supplies of apples and honey for Rosh Hashana 2014?

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