06/02/2017 11:12 EDT | Updated 06/02/2017 11:17 EDT

It's Time To End Vancouver's Wasteful War On Weed For Good

Media coverage of Vancouver's 4/20 protest festival is very different from that given to every other event in the city. While stories about festivals like Vaisakhi or the Pride Parade focus on the revenues generated by local businesses and the economic benefits these community events bring, our cannabis event is viciously attacked in the media as some kind of drain on civic resources.

cannabis protest vancouver .

Thousands of people gather at 4/20 celebrations on April 20, 2016 at Sunset Beach in Vancouver. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

In fact, the complete opposite is true. B.C.'s cannabis industry is one of our province's biggest economic engines. The cannabis industry and associated businesses employ hundreds of thousands of people across the province, bringing wealth and prosperity to many rural and urban communities. Without the strength of their local cannabis industry, many regions of our province would have long since become destitute ghost towns.

The real waste of money is not the trivial amount spent hosting the 4/20 protest festival once a year. The true drain on city resources is the massive cost of enforcing cannabis prohibition.

Canada spends about $1.2 billion a year enforcing our archaic and bigoted laws against cannabis. If we divide that figure up evenly across the country, we see that our share in Metro Vancouver is about $84 million a year, which comes to over $230,000 every single day!

Vancouver's cannabis activists have saved the city many millions of dollars over the years.

Where are the headlines about this massive waste of money? While newspapers fall over themselves to be scandalized by 100 grand going towards policing 4/20 once a year, they are silent about the much bigger expense of fighting the pointless war against cannabis plants and those who use them.

Vancouver owes its cannabis community a big debt of gratitude

The fact is that Vancouver's cannabis activists have saved the city many millions of dollars over the years.

Vancouver used to waste major police resources raiding bong shops and busting people for selling vaporizers. Our activism put an end to that practice, allowing VPD to focus on solving real crimes that actually cause harm.

marijuana police vancouver

Vancouver police officers confiscate bags of marijuana after discovering a grow-op in Vancouver, Oct. 2, 2009. (Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)

The same goes for cannabis possession. It was our community activism that changed VPD policy on cannabis, stopping the wasteful practice of making arrests for a few grams of bud. This has saved local taxpayers many millions of dollars over the years, as well as keeping our court system available for more important cases.

All of Vancouver owes a debt of gratitude to our local cannabis community. The bravery and sacrifice of local activists has saved our city many millions of dollars, and created better policing which benefits everyone in our city.

It's clear that dispensaries are already saving lives by offering a safer alternative to opiate use.

Local dispensaries save taxpayer's money as well, in several important ways.

Studies from the U.S. have shown that access to local cannabis dispensaries reduces use of opiates and associated overdoses by about 25 per cent. Given this information, we can determine that we'd have 25 per cent more opiate overdoses in Vancouver without the presence of dispensaries. Given the high social and economic costs of the current opiate crisis, it's clear that dispensaries are already saving lives and money by offering a safer alternative to opiate use.

Another way dispensaries save money is by reducing our health-care costs. Recent studies have shown that medical cannabis users are able to dramatically reduce their use of pharmaceutical drugs, which are generally subsidized through our health-care system. When a patient gets better relief from cannabis and is able to stop using pharmaceuticals, that improves their quality of life and also saves our health-care system a considerable expense.

vancouver marijuana dispensary

The B.C. Compassion Club displays two different varieties of medical marijuana available at the East Vancouver dispensary in East Vancouver, June 5, 2015. (Photo: Julie Gordon/Reuters)

Dispensaries also save money by providing a safer alternative to alcohol and other drugs. In the same way that many patients substitute cannabis for more expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals, many users substitute cannabis for alcohol, tobacco and street drugs. When someone switches from alcohol, tobacco or street drugs and begins using cannabis instead, they are making a responsible choice, and they're also saving us all significant costs in health care and policing.

It's time for Vancouver to recognize that the cannabis activists are right, and that the cannabis community deserves equal treatment. A cannabis protest like 4/20 costs very little. The real waste of taxpayer's money is the ongoing cost of using our police and court system to harass, punish and imprison people over cannabis.

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