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CHANGE MY MIND: Should Marijuana Be Legalized in Canada?

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Canada and marijuana have a very special relationship. Hey, you can't just go to any country's parliament on a certain April day and partake, what was I just saying?

The majority of Canadians are in favour of decriminalized or legal weed, while some think the penalties for possession should be more severe. The Liberal party of Canada has been in the news for falling squarely in the former camp, with reports and plans that would see the sticky substance creating jobs and being "a new source of tax revenue" for the country.

In this blunt debate, others are opting to puff, puff, pass on such approaches. Under the Conservative government's omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, mandatory minimum sentences now apply to those charged with even the most minor of marijuana-related offences.

With the recent legalization in Washington and Colorado, Canadians have a chance to look South to see if the new law keeps the peace, or if communities go up in smoke.

Two men who have worked on the front lines of drug regulation are here to weigh in. Scott P. Hilderley, a Corporal in the RCMP Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service, and William VanderGraaf, a retired Winnipeg Police Service homicide detective and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, debate whether marijuana legalization should get the green light.


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Marijuana should be legalized in Canada

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Who makes the better argument?

William VanderGraaf Retired Winnipeg Police Service Homicide Detective

Marijuana should be and will be legalized in Canada. It will be sooner than later. The question is how many people and families will the Harper Government hurt in the meantime? The opposition parties in Canada have stated they will change the law governing cannabis, with the Liberal Party of Canada supporting legalized control and regulation. In my view this places cannabis use out of the realm of criminality and into a black hole of political partisanship. The stigma associated with the use of cannabis either medically or recreationally, has gone up in smoke. The polls are running high in favor of legalization, yet our government maintains its own immoral hypocrisy by continuing to deal with a social health issue by waging war on its own citizens, criminalizing and jailing people, particularly young people with their entire future ahead of them. That alone is a huge contributing factor to overall crime.

Crime and public safety is the primary reason for the legalization, with strong control and regulation, of all drugs. Cannabis stands second to alcohol as the most widely used substance by adult Canadians, with an estimated 10 per cent of the adult population being consumers and almost 50 per cent of the adult population admitting to having at least tried it. So our government leaves the drug trade in the hands of organized crime, who turn the profits against us through corruption of public officials and constant violence in our communities.

There is a better way. Cigarette tobacco consumption has been reduced dramatically without prohibition. In excess of half the population were smokers at one time and through science, education, regulation and control we have reduced cigarette smoking to maybe 17 per cent of the population. We did that without criminalizing or jailing a single human being. We have tried criminal prohibition of alcohol and learned that such laws empowered organized criminals and did nothing to reduce alcohol use and abuse. We have also learned that millions of people use alcohol responsibly and millions do not use alcohol at all, with only a relatively small number of the many alcohol abusers committing crimes.

When U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in the early '70s, it was a war primarily on cannabis spurred on by the intolerant, bigoted and racist policies of the 20th century. Support from the rich and powerful in business and industry sealed the fate of the cannabis plant or hemp, as a threat to their own personal economic empires. Only the Netherlands refused to declare war on its own citizens for using cannabis. The sky did not fall in. It is one of the most thriving and productive countries in the world.

The criminal law and enforcement is the most serious of actions taken by the state against citizens. It must not be taken lightly and used to hurt people who have no criminal intent in their use of cannabis or drugs and are otherwise law abiding citizens. It is not the role of police officers to stop people from engaging in risky behaviour, whether it is drugs or alcohol, unless that behaviour is impinging upon the rights and safety of other persons.

It is a matter of personal responsibility and a human right to self medicate to govern one's own body and health. Social health matters are not the responsibility of the police. Police involvement in such matters over the decades has created disrespect for law enforcement and government. It is a violent way to deal with nonviolent offenders. That disrespect hampers the police in so many ways when it comes down to the investigation of serious crime in our communities.

Legalization is required to take a huge chunk out of organized crime profits, to control an unlawful and therefore unregulated trade that lures so many young people into criminal gangs, and to make it much more difficult for children to acquire. Taking drugs off our streets and into a regulated regime, much like we do with wine, is the only answer to safer communities.

Scott P. Hilderley Corporal, RCMP Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service

I've heard a lot of banter in the media and also in the streets about whether legalizing marijuana is the answer to society's woes. I also recognize that there is a strong push in this direction being made by a vocal minority in relation to this subject.

At the risk of lighting the fuse on the powder keg that this issue has become, I think it's very important to look at this with clear eyes.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to their own facts.

Marijuana has been proven to have over 400 chemicals, negatively effect the immune system, the respiratory system, and impair judgement and co-ordination. Studies are now linking marijuana use to a variety of mental disorders including acute toxic psychosis, delusions, panic attacks, depersonalization and paranoia. According to an article in the St. Albert Leader, even medical practitioners are now reluctant to bear the responsibility of prescribing marijuana, because "among their concerns, that physicians would be asked to provide a prescription for a substance for which they feel there is no scientific evidence of effectiveness."

Some figureheads in community leadership roles point out that they had tried marijuana themselves many years ago, but they are then careful to remark that they haven't done so in a long, long time. I would suggest the reason is that they recognized it as a poor personal choice, and opted instead to dedicate themselves to healthier, smarter choices, which have led them to achieve the successes that they now enjoy.

Don't we think we owe it to our kids to create a supportive environment so that they may have the same opportunity? It's worth noting that the THC (tetrahydrocannibonol) levels in marijuana have risen from two to five per cent 20 years or so ago to their current common levels of more than 20 per cent.

Yes, there is a small percentage of the population who have been diagnosed with such terrible debilitating ailments that physicians have seen fit to prescribe marijuana to help battle pain or stimulate appetite. But when I've had discussions with some of them, even they have said that they do not wish for marijuana to be legal for any other non-medicinal reason. In their lives, the use of marijuana is the lesser of two evils.

What about the assertion that legalizing marijuana would eliminate organized crime? I would love to subscribe to the notion that organized crime could be eliminated this simply, but the truth is that it wouldn't matter very much.

A great deal of the trafficking done by the organized crime element takes place with international partners, and would continue to thrive regardless of the legal status of marijuana here at home.

And they don't stop with marijuana -- ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, meth, and whatever drug is waiting to be invented in the future. The answer is not found in legalizing everything. If everyone would devote the same energy toward creating an environment where our kids can thrive, imagine what the future could hold.

So, what is the answer? "The War on Drugs" has long been lamented as being unwinnable. But have we really devoted 100 per cent of our efforts in that direction? We still see drunk drivers, after years and years of enforcement, so should we abandon the "war on drunk drivers"? Just because something is difficult, does not mean that it is not worth the effort to try.

It's not that tough to do, but it can't be left to just a small group of people to champion. The Search Institute has determined that there are 40 developmental assets that kids need to succeed. The more of these that a student has, the more likely they are to succeed in school, take care of their health, value diversity and exhibit leadership. Conversely, the fewer assets that a student has, the more likely they are to take part in risky behaviour involving drugs, alcohol, violence and sexual activity.

The good news is that there are already groups within society working on building these assets among kids. Have a look. If we don't place enough value on our society's youth to be willing to band together and give this our best shot, then what does that say about our value system? It truly does take an entire village to raise a child. For the sake of our village's future, let's all pitch in and give it our best.



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