Thursday, March 10, 2005

High on Canada: Decriminalization of Marijuana

The Christian Science Monitor's Susan Bourette has an article following up on the killing of the four Mounties by a deranged gunman who also grew marijuana. Apparently, this business is thriving in Canada.

Once hidden in farming communities and well-heeled suburbs, grow operations - indoor nurseries with high-tech lighting and temperature controls - have been thrust into the national spotlight. Thursday Canada buried four young Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who were killed during a bust in rural Alberta March 3.

The Alberta grow house was just one of thousands across Canada. Here in Ontario, police say indoor pot operations have risen 250 percent in the past four years. And Vancouver is home to some 7,000 "grow ops" at any time, police say...

Criminologist Patrick Parnaby says the events of last week are likely to lead to stiffer penalties. When something like narcotics is intimately tied to violence, there is going to be a powerful public backlash, says the associate professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario. "Stricter laws will make the public feel a whole lot better," he says.

But many users pushing for decriminalization couldn't disagree more. Blair Longley, leader of the federal Marijuana Party, says legalization would wipe out criminal enterprises across the country.

"They've just used this [the Alberta shootings] as an excuse to crack down and enforce outdated laws," says Mr. Longley. "In reality, liberalizing the laws would mean you would get rid of almost all the profits and, therefore, all the crime." |Link|

Personally, I think it's ridiculous that marijuana is illegal. Alcohol is far more socially harmful than marijuana, yet it's legal.

The dangers of drugs should not be underestimated, but nor should they be exaggerated. With the exception of heroin, drugs contribute to far fewer deaths among their users than either nicotine or alcohol. In America, for instance, tobacco kills proportionately more smokers than heroin kills its users, and alcohol kills more drinkers than cocaine kills its devotees.|Link|

And that neglects all of the bar brawls, stabbings, and gunplay associated with alcohol. And then there's drunk driving, as well.

The public policy test to be used in evaluating whether a drug should be legalized (or at least decriminalized) is whether the drug is more harmful when legal than the harms associated with its criminalization.

There are certainly costs and benefits associated with prohibition and legalization of any drug. And we are a society of drug users from oxycotin to paxil to halcyon to viagra to alcohol.

Remind me again why marijuana is illegal? I think the case for legalizing marijuana is pretty clear.

The Economist in 2001 wrote:
It may seem distasteful to think of drugs as a business, responding to normal economic signals. To do so, however, is not to deny the fact that the drugs trade rewards some of the world's nastiest people and most disagreeable countries. Nor is it to underestimate the harm that misuse of drugs can do to the health of individuals, or the moral fury that drug-taking can arouse. For many people, indeed, the debate is a moral one, akin to debates about allowing divorce, say, or abortion. But moral outrage has turned out to be a poor basis for policy.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the United States. Here is the world's most expensive drugs policy, absorbing $35 billion-40 billion a year of taxpayers' cash. It has eroded civil liberties, locked up unprecedented numbers of young blacks and Hispanics, and corroded foreign policy. It has proved a dismal rerun of America's attempt, in 1920-33, to prohibit the sale of alcohol. That experiment—not copied in any other big country—inflated alcohol prices, promoted bootleg suppliers, encouraged the spread of guns and crime, increased hard-liquor drinking and corrupted a quarter of the federal enforcement agents, all within a decade. Half a century from now, America's current drugs policy may seem just as perverse as Prohibition. |Link|

Personally, I blame the current poor public policy regarding drugs on the Republicans. I think they're in bed with the pharmaceutical industry which wants to keep its monopoly on prescription tranquilizers and anti-depressants.

Just look at the huge windfall the Republicans gave the pharmaceutical industry with their misguided prescription drug plan in 2003.

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