This is the Life: Taking the high road with marijuana laws

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Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

For all the interest it seems to have generated in news media, the campaign to ultimately decriminalize marijuana use, possession and sales in the province is highly unlikely to gain public support, at least in sufficient numbers to force a referendum on the issue.

Among the plans of Sensible BC, the organization proposes provincial legislation it calls the Sensible Policing Act. It would involve “stopping arrests for marijuana possession, and focusing police resources on fighting real crime,” according to organizer Dana Larsen.

The first problem is identifiable right in the name of Larsen’s group. Using “sensible” is akin to using the phrase “common sense”, because it presumes a black and white perspective on an issue that has more greys than anything else.

Personally, I think it’s time to call a halt to the War on Drugs (and any other public policy that includes the word war, for that matter). From pretty much any perspective, it’s impossible to deny that the War on Drugs has been an abject failure. Marijuana, the softest of all illegal drugs, is easier to get after nearly a century of prohibition than it ever has been. The populace has spoken — people in general don’t buy the bogeyman arguments about marijuana. They like the feeling they get when they inhale and they have been more than willing to take legal risks to get that feeling.

The real question is, do we want to legalize it, to toss out all legislation to do with a plant that is apparently as easy to grow as dandelions?

I vote no. But not because I am completely enamoured of government sticking its nose into the private lives of citizens. There seems to be sufficient evidence that the use of marijuana at a young age can indeed have a deleterious effect on brain development. Unless and until I am convinced that information is wrong, I don’t want to tell people who aren’t adults that it’s OK to light up, in public or in their own strobe-lit basements, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida blasting out from the stereo and bags of Hawkins Cheezies at the ready. (Oh, wait, did I just have a flashback?)

My solution is a more pragmatic one. Legalize and regulate the weed, just as we have done, with admittedly mixed success, with alcohol. Let’s at least show some effort in keeping it out of the hands of youngsters whose brains still have a chance to form fully. But also let’s take this rare opportunity to pad the taxman’s coffers. At the very least it might turn aging baby boomers away from griping about their tax bills and toward toking up to make sure government pensions are sufficiently funded until they themselves qualify.

I’m not the only one who feels that way, of course. For decades, Liberal Senator Larry Campbell has been saying the same thing. The former mayor of Vancouver, ex-police officer and coroner says decriminalization doesn’t make any sense. Kash Heed, a former solicitor-general and police chief says the same thing.

In talking to the local RCMP detachment commander, Staff Sgt. Bob Gollan, he is of the opinion that Sensible BC is anything but sensible. Gollan doesn’t get into whether he agrees with legalization, but insists that enacting provincial legislation to prevent police officers from enforcing marijuana laws is a non-starter. Federal legislation takes precedence over that of junior governments when it comes to the Criminal Code of Canada, he argues, and any change in laws addressing crime has to come from the Parliament of Canada, and nowhere else.

Instead, Gollan speaks in favour of being able to ticket minor offenders of the Criminal Code’s ban on marijuana possession. It’s a tool that police use to keep alcohol use and possession in control, and it would be preferable to the situation police now find themselves in, where they are reduced to simply destroying small amounts of marijuana found in the possession of people they stop. Then they simply walk away, feeling helpless because recommending charges is fruitless — Crown Counsel adamantly refuses to prosecute charges on small amounts of marijuana possession because a) the courts are already backed up and b) judges have long since stopped attempting to use fines and jail sentences to stop what is essentially a tidal wave of victimless crime.

If marijuana was legalized and regulated it would be less attractive to organized crime. Bootlegging went the way of the dodo bird when alcohol prohibition laws were repealed. Other, more progressive countries have actually moved away from treating the use of any non-prescription drugs as a crime, choosing to view addictions or perceived need as medical, not legal issues. Fundamentally, a conservative-leaning government, committed to reducing the omnipresence of government in private lives, should be leading the way on this issue. Somehow, I can’t see that happening.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.