09/28/2012 04:05 EDT | Updated 11/28/2012 05:12 EST

Marijuana Decriminalization: The Time Has Come

"...if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true."

Milton Friedman, Economist

"'s more than time to start working toward legalizing marijuana."

Bill Good CKNW Sept 26, 2012

This week, the Union of B.C. Municipalities voted to support the decriminalization of marijuana in Canada. This step may seem small, but it signifies that public leadership in British Columbia has reached an historic tipping point on the war on drugs. It won't tip back.

The Criminal Code is a federal responsibility, but enforcement is within provincial jurisdiction, and policing is covered by municipal tax dollars. In reality the frontline in the war on drugs is fought by under-resourced and out-gunned municipal police forces.

It is into our city streets that the river of guns has poured unchecked. It is in our public places -- our bars, restaurants and casinos that gangsters are gunned down with sickening regularity. And it is in every one of our high schools that organized crime stretches its tentacles -- creating new customers (aka children) and recruiting scores of callow young foot-soldiers.

The war on drugs is a spectacularly expensive and destructive failure, and the resolution of the UBCM is a verdict on that war by the most credible jurors, its own warriors.

The choice for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is as simple as it is stark: pot or gangs.


In 2006 B.C. Vital Statistics documented 8,146 deaths linked to addictive substances. Of these, 7,958 were associated with alcohol and tobacco, and 188 linked to drug overdoses, of which 146 were heroin or cocaine related.

The B.C. Coroner reported a slightly different figure of 220 deaths from illicit substances that same year, and provided the following toxicology results:

"Cocaine was identified in 79.5% of deaths, opiates in 60%, methadone in 14.1%,

methamphetamine/amphetamine in 5.9%, alcohol in 22.7%, antidepressants in

10.5% and benzodiazepines in 3.6%. poly-substance use was common; 2 or more

substances were identified in 78.6% and 3 or more in 34.5% deaths. opiates were

more frequently identified in Vancouver: 74.1% vs. 55.4% (p=0.015)."

In other words, the one substance conspicuously absent from addiction-related death reports is cannabis. Further, in Stepping Forward, the B.C. Medical Association's 2009 report on addiction care, alcohol and gambling are rated as vastly more serious problems than all illicit drug use combined. Marijuana is such a minor addiction issue that it is barely mentioned.

Meanwhile, the policing, court and correction costs dedicated to saving us from marijuana, which is the lifeblood of B.C.'s criminal organizations, have been staggering, as has the human toll of the rise of gangs and organized crime.

Economists such as Milton Friedman draw a straight line between the war on drugs and the increase of organized crime, which comes as no surprise to anyone experienced with gang related law enforcement. As Friedman points out, government pressure drives the weakling out of the marketplace, rewarding the sophisticated and ruthless operator who is able to capitalize himself beyond the reach of police agencies.

It's the classic vicious cycle, with police activity actually driving a highly financed and professional criminal network.

Now estimated by the Fraser Institute at a $7 billion industry, the B.C. marijuana cartel (and that's what it is) is almost the size of the mining industry, and probably employs more people. All of those many thousands and their families get a free ride on our education, health care, and social services, while handing the taxpayer a staggering bill in policing, courts and corrections, and sucking countless young people into a ruthlessly brutal and exploitative life.

Though it was decades ago now, as a former Crown prosecutor I saw the gang and organized world up close, and I've watched it chew up starry-eyed youngsters who dreamed of play-acting the Scarface life. Trust me, among the things you don't want to see in life are photos of murdered 19-year-olds. Gangs and organized crime commit many atrocities, but nothing more venal than their craven and relentless pursuit of our young.

The war on drugs is a bottomless money pit that has produced nothing but body bags. If the federal government will not act, then we, the people, should demand that it does.

I applaud the Union of B.C. Municipalities for its courageous and principled stand seeking decriminalization of marijuana. You can learn more by visiting Stop The Violence.