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Fanatics with a badge
The philosopher George Santayana famously defined fanaticism as "redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." It's a fitting description of a conference held this week at which officials and police discussed the next battle in the endless war on marijuana.

The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Co-hosted by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and the Ontario sociation of Chiefs of Police, the conference specifically targeted marijuana "grow-ops," a lucrative business the police say is booming and making gangsters rich. Imagine for a moment that all the scary stories about grow-ops are true (we have our doubts about some of the more alarmist claims). How should we respond?

The police say there has to be a major crackdown. Punishments must be made tougher, they say, perhaps even passing mandatory minimum sentences -- a drastic step the criminal law generally avoids. And, no surprise, more money must be given to the police to pay for stricter enforcement.

In other words -- to put this in Santayana's terms -- the police want to redouble the effort against the marijuana trade. Fine. But what is the aim?

Both the police and Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter seem to be saying the aim is to shut down the grow-ops, or at least get them out of residential neighbourhoods.

This seems reasonable enough, given that grow-ops undeniably present a fire hazard due to illegal wiring. And they attract criminals who find ripping off grow-ops a lucrative business in itself.

What proponents of the get-tough strategy fail to acknowledge, however, is that grow-ops are in residential neighbourhoods because marijuana is illegal. Nor do they admit that the quickest way to get grow-ops out of neighbourhoods is to legalize, license and regulate marijuana production -- exactly what a Senate Special Committee recommended in September, 2002.

A House of Commons Special Committee was more timid on the subject, but even it recommended decriminalizing the growing of small amounts of marijuana for personal use as a way of reducing the incentive criminals have to set up pot factories.

Neither the police nor the Ontario government will even mull over such ideas, insisting the only way to go is to redouble their efforts. In other words, the criminal law will solve the problem the criminal law created.

Not only is this response logically absurd, it also indicates the authorities have forgotten why marijuana was criminalized in the first place. When the ban was imposed in 1923, the purpose wasn't to get pot production out of residential neighbourhoods -- it wasn't in neighbourhoods then -- but to eliminate the marijuana supply.

Making Canada marijuana-free was the aim of every bust and every uprooting of a plant. Billions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of that aim, millions of people have been arrested and millions of plants have been uprooted. But Canada's marijuana supply has only grown and grown. There are few, if any, police officers today who really think they can wipe out the marijuana supply.

Using the criminal law to deal with this problem isn't working. Since police and politicians have forgotten the original aim of the law, yet still want to redouble their efforts, they're perfect examples of Santayana's fanatics.



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