Hardly a week goes by these days without more calls for legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.
Most recently former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley was quoted as saying he supports decriminalization of marijuana. Current mayor Shari Green has opted out of the debate, saying it’s a federal issue.
Last week eight British Columbia mayors sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark supporting a Stop the Violence B.C. resolution which supports the adoption of a public health-based, regulatory approach to cannabis taxation and control.
What’s interesting about the Stop the Violence B.C. resolution is that it mentions neither decriminalization nor legalization.
The two are not interchangeable, yet the lines between the two often gets blurred when the debate begins.
Decriminalization of marijuana involves moving simple possession of marijuana out from under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Code. It’s still illegal, but not a criminal offence more like speeding. In other words, if you get pulled over and the police find a few joints in your car, the officer will confiscate the marijuana, write you a ticket stating you have to pay a nice little fine, and send you on your way. No criminal record, no trip to the courthouse to get, basically, the same thing from a judge.
The goal behind decriminalization is to ease the clogged justice system. It does nothing to “stop the violence.”
The resolution put forward by the group calls for taxation and control. So, without saying it, it’s calling for legalization. After all, how can we rationally tax a substance that is illegal?
So, really, we’re talking about legalization. From a slew of provincial medical health officers to a passel of former Vancouver mayors to a gaggle of former attorneys-general to the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, and now a cadre of sitting municipal leaders, the message is clear the current way of dealing with drugs and the resultant violence, lost lives, and economic and social damage to communities is not working.
When it comes down to it, the issue is basic economics supply and demand.
Legalization of marijuana is an attempt to control, not eliminate, the supply of marijuana. The Central American drug wars and the proliferation of grow-ops right here in B.C. have proved that trying to eliminate the supply at the source is a dangerous and ineffective way of combatting the problem.
Legalization controls the supply and, by taxing it, regulates it. Much like liquor prohibition in the United States, legalization takes it out of the hands of criminals. Make no mistake, legalizing marijuana will not eliminate gangs or criminal activity in British Columbia. It will, however, hit them in the pocketbook, which, in turn, makes them less powerful.
The other way of dealing with the problem is to hit the demand side. Marijuana has become so readily available it’s very, very difficult to curb the demand. It’s the path that the federal Conservatives have opted for and it’s one that history has proved to be even more ineffective than trying to cut off the supply.
The Conservatives are getting tough on users of marijuana by introducing automatic minimum sentences sending people to jail for crimes that previously would have resulted in a fine of a souple of hundred dollars. They are trying to curb the demand.
It plays well in the optics of get-tough-on-crime politics, but the reality is we will have even more of a clogged justice system and more and more people in our jails, which is why Ottawa is building new ones. And, sadly, the people clogging our jail cells won’t be the gangs and organized criminals who will continue to reap the benefits of a society that has, yet again, failed to adequately deal with the problem.
It’s simple supply and demand economics. If we cannot control the demand, then we must control the supply and the past 40 years has proven that completely eliminating the supply doesn’t work.
It’s time for something that will work.