Legalize, Regulate, Tax

The time is well past due to legalize personal possession and consumption of cannabis, and to regulate its production, marketing, and distribution like alcohol or tobacco.

This is not by any means endorsement or advocacy for use, merely recognition that criminalization not only fails to protect us, but, all in all brings greater harm upon us.

Many are concerned that this would  “send the wrong message!” or “just make it more accessible,” and encourage our youth to use it — as-if we’re actually keeping it out of their hands now!

The reality is that though illegal they (and we!) can still readily get it and still readily do, giving them, and indeed the population at large, easy familiarity with flouting criminal law, and with black-marketeers and their whole illicit pharmacopeia.  (While evidence does not support cannabis itself as a gateway drug, prohibition arguably opens wide the gate!)

Then, typically, comes a litany of “how cannabis is harmful,” to justify why it should be illegal. But if this made sense — ever — it would likewise argue that other as- or more-harmful substances should be strictly prohibited and subjected to criminal consequences, too: tobacco, and alcohol, for instance. But we know from experience with alcohol in particular, that prohibition simply exacerbates the problems. Otherwise that nice Chablis you had with dinner, or that cold brewski after the game or mowing the lawn would have made you a criminal: a low-life scumbag druggie!

Does legality mean that there are no harms associated with tobacco, or alcohol? Does it mean that we’re saying “Go out and get wasted, it’s OK?” Of course not.

Tobacco is regulated, and through public education, restricted advertising, de-glorifying it in entertainment, and limiting where it can be consumed and how it’s sold, we actively (and effectively!) discourage its use.  We pursue similar efforts around alcohol, particularly addressed to responsible consumption and, for those who develop problematic dependencies, provide outreach, counseling, and treatment.

It should be at least the same for cannabis, which on the evidence is less harmful than both alcohol and tobacco, and less addictive. (Though sucking smoke into your lungs from anything can’t be good for you!) These are health matters best addressed by physicians and public health initiatives, but certainly not the proper concern of criminal justice.

Legalization of cannabis means that those who need to do so can benefit from its many beneficial pharmaceutical properties; those who wish to use it recreationally and socially, can, as for alcohol, do so responsibly. It means that we can better regulate and control it, and, as for alcohol, better provide support and treatment where needed.

Prohibition doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect our communities. It doesn’t protect our children or our youth. It doesn’t protect anybody. It’s a tragic, misguided, massively expensive, utter failure.

Let’s stop throwing good money after bad and put it to good use for a change. Let’s stop throwing good people after bad, too, and stop criminalizing them to no purpose; let’s empty our prisons of the victims, and free our courts and police for real crime.

Let’s get smart and do something that makes sense: Legalize, regulate, and, well, if you insist — tax!


  • 2013-01 Legalization of Marijuana — Answering questions and Developing a framework — Liberal Party of Canada in BC
  • 2002-09 Cannabis:  Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy — Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs.
  • 2002-09-04 News Release — Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs:

    “Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue”, said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, …

    “At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption. Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties. But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization.”

  • Why Legalize Drugs? — Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), regarding prohibition in general:

    “We believe that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has historically been attributed to drug use. It is prohibition that makes these drugs so valuable — while giving criminals a monopoly over their supply. Driven by the huge profits from this monopoly, criminal gangs bribe and kill each other, law enforcers, and children. Their trade is unregulated and they are, therefore, beyond our control.

    “History has shown that drug prohibition reduces neither use nor abuse. …

    “We believe that in a regulated and controlled environment, drugs will be safer for adult use and less accessible to our children.  And we believe that by placing drug abuse in the hands of medical professionals instead of the criminal justice system, we will reduce rates of addiction and overdose deaths.”

    (The above text is no longer available on-line. You can access more up-to-date variants here.

  • 1972 The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs — The Le Dain Commission:

    The majority opinion (Gerald Le Dain, Heinz Lehmann, J. Peter Stein):

    “The costs to a significant number of individuals, the majority of whom are young people, and to society generally, of a policy of prohibition of simple possession are not justified by the potential for harm of cannabis and the additional influence which such a policy is likely to have upon perception of harm, demand and availability. We, therefore, recommend the repeal of the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis.

    Concerned with a percieved potential for harm to children and adolescents, and to restrict availability, these members opted to retain a policy of prohibition on trafficking, and cultivation for the purposes of trafficking.

    A fourth member (Marie-Andree Bertrand) offered the following dissent:

    “My colleagues have adopted a position of tolerance in the matter of use which represents a forward step compared to the existing attitude. However, their interpretation of the results of our inquiry does not lead them to recommend the legalization of cannabis distribution through federal-provincial agreement. Despite my esteem for the other members of the Commission and my respect for their point of view, I must dissent from the majority opinion. I recommend a policy of legal distribution of cannabis.”

    A fifth member (lan L. Campbell) dissented as well, as follows:

    “…I must dissent from their recommendation that the prohibition of the simple possession of cannabis be repealed and from part of the recommendation concerning cultivation. I am in full agreement with all of their other recommendations. A principal reason for my dissent is a fear that a repeal of the prohibition of simple possession, at this time, would be apt to be seriously misinterpreted, particularly by young people. … the consequences which could follow from it, seem to me to outweigh the obvious advantages of repeal.”

    This member seems to feel that despite the “obvious advantages of repeal,” the mere act of repealing the prohibition would itself “Send the wrong message.”

    It’s a peculiar position, in my view, and rather condescending towards “young people.” It has the flavour of someone who, despite the data, can’t get past a prior long-ingrained belief. Even if this fear were true, it’s hard to see that any such effect would be any more than an ephemeral blip.

    I myself was a “young person” of this era, and, as I remember the tenor of the times, we “young people,” by and large, thought the prevailing marijuana policy absurd and hypocritical. I submit that we “young people” would have seen such a change by the old guard, the “establishment,” as refreshing, enlightened, and surprisingly rational.

  • 1944 The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York — The La Guardia Committee on Marihuana, by the New York Academy of Medicine, Sociological Study conclusions:

    “… The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.

    “The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction …

    “Marihuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.

    “Juvenile delinquency is not associated with the practice of smoking marihuana.

    “The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.”

  • 1894 The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report (3281 pages, seven volumes!) — Report Summary:

    “Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use practically produces no ill effects. In all but the most exceptional cases, the injury from habitual moderate use is not appreciable.

    “The excessive use may certainly be accepted as very injurious, though it must be admitted that in many excessive consumers the injury is not clearly marked. The injury done by the excessive use is, however, confined almost exclusively to the consumer himself; the effect on society is rarely appreciable.

    “It has been the most striking feature in this inquiry to find how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation. The large number of witnesses of all classes who professed never to have seen these effects, the vague statements made by many who professed to have observed them, the very few witnesses who could so recall a case as to give any definite account of it, and the manner in which a large proportion of these cases broke down on the first attempt to examine them, are facts which combine to show most clearly how little injury society has hitherto sustained from hemp drugs.”

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