Our Bad Habit When It Comes to Pot Laws
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Our Bad Habit When It Comes to Pot Laws

Included in the Tory crime bill now before the Senate: harsher penalties for marijuana possession which won't reduce interest in pot but could saddle even casual smokers with permanent legal records.

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They have a statue on Parliament Hill for the person who turned pot smokers into criminals. It’s not far from the monument to Sir John A. Macdonald and the equestrian statue of the Queen.

Emily Murphy was one of the Famous Five—the group of women who argued before the Supreme Court in 1927 that women should count as persons under Canadian law. But Murphy also had rather, er, interesting views on drugs and race, which she spelled out in a book called The Black Candle, published by Thomas Allen in Toronto in 1922. Bad people of colour were bent on taking over the country, she wrote, and what better way than by seducing white women with drugs and planting their demon seed? (The book has several illustrations of fully-clothed black men in bed with fully-clothed, supposedly stoned, white women, among other things.) Murphy was taking aim at opium smokers and cocaine users, but she was also the first Canadian to unmask the plan by evil Mexicans to get into the corsets of fine Canadian women with their new drug, marijuana.

The Black Candle is the kind of book that you and your friends might want to read aloud to each other after smoking a couple of spliffs.

Oops. Did I just get myself into trouble? Because it may well be that counselling you, fine readers, to get high and read 90-year-old ridiculous anti-drug propaganda written by a darling of the feminist movement will shortly become illegal. The House of Commons passed the Tory omnibus crime bill by a vote of 157 to 127 last week; it’s now before the Senate for final debate. Simple possession may soon land you in jail. Growing a dozen pot plants so you can have a handful of females for your personal use—female pot plants, that is—could get you a minimum six months in the slammer.

Because marijuana is a gateway drug, don’t you know? Actually, it is a gateway drug of sorts. Because it’s illegal, pot smokers have to support and, unless they mooch from their friends, get to know, people connected to organized crime. And the reason you have organized crime running the pot trade is because, well, it’s illegal.

We all know how well Prohibition worked out. In a few years, the mob can celebrate the centennial of the government program that built organized crime up from a group of immigrant-exploiting thugs to real corporate players.

Our pot laws have equally ludicrous parentage. After The Black Candle came out, a bureaucrat added cannabis to the list of things banned under the Narcotics Control Act. Then in 1938, after the U.S. government banned pot with its Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, the Toronto Star whooped up an anti-reefer campaign here. The Mackenzie King government, horrified by this new menace and forgetting it had already banned the stuff fifteen years before, prompty banned it again.

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At some points since we’ve come close to decriminalization—and not just decriminalization of pot, but decriminalization of the people who use it. Criminalization of pot smokers and small-time dealers kicks many people out of the mainstream of Canadian life and breeds more criminal acts. It’s a way of marginalizing people and building an underclass that enriches police, jail, social work, and parole budgets. Because Stephen Harper is also making it much harder and more expensive to get a pardon, these criminal records are virtually unshakable.

And what’s the point? Pot supposedly makes people lazy. Hell, I’m lazy and I don’t even smoke it. (Asthma.) I know lots of ambitious, hard-working people who smoke. And I know a few very lazy people who smoke. It’s hard to say if these people would be any less lazy if they gave up weed. But this is not about health. Nor is it about safe streets. Anyone serious about cracking down on crime and violence caused by substance abuse would go after alcohol abusers.

I don’t want my kids to grow up as pot smokers—not because pot is evil but because I want them to go through life with a clear head. But if they do take it up, I certainly don’t want my kids, or your kids, or Stephen Harper’s kids, in front of a judge. But that’s the new Canada, one where every problem can be fixed with crackdowns, cracked heads, zero tolerance.

Will this work? No.