Weed. Grass. Hemp. Herb. Dope. Pot. Ganja. Bud. Mary Jane. You might have heard about legalizing it this summer.
It was quite the hot topic.
There's good reason why:
According to police reports, over 405,000 Canadians have been arrested for marijuana-related crimes since the Conservative government came to power. This despite the widely-held, medical understanding that marijuana is safer than alcohol or tobacco -- and certainly far less addictive.
The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) estimates the cost of marijuana prohibition is over $400 million per year, while noting the percentage of health-care costs attributable to drug use are less than 0.5 per cent for marijuana, compared to 28.4 per cent for alcohol and a whopping 69 per cent caused by tobacco.
The point is clear: it costs us far more to keep marijuana illegal than it will cost to regulate marijuana, a process that would make the drug safer and help keep it out of the hands of kids -- much like regulating alcohol sales and establishing a legal drinking age makes it more difficult for youth to access alcohol.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is right that legalizing, and then regulating, marijuana is the right thing to do. It will save money and it will help keep weed away from kids. Prohibition isn't working to keep kids safe from today's supercharged weed. Legalization and regulation will.
In fact, CAMH suggests criminalization actually encourages youth to use marijuana. It's no secret that youth like to rebel and stick it to the man. Regulation will work to deter or at least delay kids from trying pot.
Many will suggest, however, that marijuana is a "gateway" to harder drugs. Again, CAMH debunks this notion, arguing, "It has never been scientifically proven that cannabis causes people to use other drugs." (Alcohol, on the other hand, is definitely a proven gateway--to violence, especially against women.)
CAMH reports suggest that legalizing marijuana has no correlation to increased cannabis use: the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal, has a far lower usage rate than the United States, which has strict drug laws.
While estimations vary, Dr. Andrea Barthwell, former Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, notes that in the 70s, THC in weed was about 3.5 per cent. Today's weed is far more potent, with THC levels up to 27 per cent.
Regulating marijuana is one way to ensure its quality and safety -- to police the product itself, rather than the people using it. I don't want my kids smoking super-potent dope laced with PCP. I want us to make sure it's safe and controlled, just like alcohol.
Some reacted to Justin's policy with scorn, asking why is marijuana such a hot topic?
You know what, I grudgingly agree. Marijuana isn't that important an issue.
Sure, legalizing marijuana will save substantial money in policing and incarceration costs; ruin an underground economy dominated by the mob and biker gangs; and raise billions in tax revenue. But,most of all, it makes it easier to keep it away from young teens.
But let me suggest what I think is important about this issue:
I like Justin Trudeau's approach. He's been forthright and honest. In today's heavily scripted politics, that took courage. He's also letting the clear evidence inform his policy, something the Conservatives aren't doing.
He also gets something that I think is vital to not just political debate, but to parenthood itself. Marijuana is ubiquitous. Its use is common. Kids see the hypocrisy of parents who used (or still use) marijuana while pushing prohibition.
And that, ultimately, is what this policy will do: legalization will make it easier to have frank conversations with our kids, and help keep weed out of their hands until their brains are fully developed.
Why do I like Justin's policy? Yes, it's smart crime policy, smart economic policy and smart social policy. Yes, it'll ensure basic freedoms. But the main reason I like this policy is his approach: it's honest.
And in today's politics, such honesty truly is refreshing.