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CN BC: OPED: Gripped by Reefer Madness

Pubdate: Sat, 11 Sep 2004
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Philippe Lucas, Special to the Sun
Note: Philippe Lucas is a medicinal cannabis researcher and distributor living in Victoria. He is the founding director of Canadians for Safe Access and the Vancouver Island Compassion Society.


Researcher Hopes Crackdowns Signal That the End of Cannabis Prohibition Is Nigh

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

- - Martin Luther King

For several months, Da Kine on Commercial Drive has been challenging prohibition by openly selling cannabis. Following a series of high-profile national news stories about the cafe, neighbours have felt compelled to defend the establishment, saying there are now fewer dealers on the street corners, and fewer pot smokers in the nearby park. But that did not stop Vancouver police from raiding the cafe on Thursday evening and arresting six people for selling pot.

Last week in Hamilton, Ont., local police walked into a newly opened cannabis cafe and made their first arrest for possession of marijuana. They had no choice, the law was being flouted. The 76-year-old woman in a wheelchair whom they charged had no Health Canada licence to possess cannabis, which she used to alleviate the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis. She was so distraught by the incident that she had to be taken away in an ambulance.

Thank you, officers, I feel so much safer now that law and order have been restored.

A few weeks before this Hamilton bust, long-time cannabis activist Marc Emery was sentenced to three months in a Saskatoon jail for passing a joint, which although obviously not morally different than offering a beer or a glass of wine to a dinner guest, is still considered trafficking in the eyes of the law.

Well done, Your Honour. Canadians will surely sleep better at night knowing that hippies have finally learned how wrong it is to share. We will take great comfort in knowing that our tax dollars are being used to incarcerate yet another non-violent adult cannabis user, even if this may mean early release for a sex-offender or predatory criminal to make room for Emery.

The recent raids might serve to remind us that bars and liquor stores weren't originally established to increase the public's access to alcohol; quite the contrary, they were meant to restrict and police the use of liquor. Like Da Kine, alcohol retailers continue to do this by restricting use and purchases to adults, ensuring quality control, and by taking responsibility for customer behaviour.

This regulatory approach acknowledges that although there may be social and health problems associated with the use of alcohol ( and to a lesser extent cannabis ), they can be mitigated by employing harm reduction techniques, including licensed and regulated distribution.

It somewhat boggles the mind that Vancouver -- a city of progressive, pragmatic social solutions, whose wise mayor, Larry Campbell, is even now pushing Health Canada to license a "safe crack smoking" room in its ground-breaking safe injection site -- would not see the wisdom of de-prioritizing cannabis arrests and licensing distribution outlets.

Even as Vancouver is about to embark on the cutting edge NAOMI project, which would see addicts supplied with free heroin as part of a larger study on treating addiction, the local compassion club -- Canada's oldest and largest, with more than 3,000 critically and chronically ill members -- still operates without a licence or legal protection from the city. Although I'm supportive of the NAOMI project, I find it difficult to understand why the health and safety of addicts is being placed at a higher premium than that of either medical or recreational cannabis users.

I have heard that in the final year of American alcohol prohibition, Elliot Ness and his "untouchables" busted more gin-joints than they had in the previous few years combined. I can only hope that the apparent national increase in the enforcement of our outdated cannabis laws signals the final death throws of this failed prohibition, and that Canadians will soon benefit from a cannabis policy that is based on science, common sense and compassion, rather than on fear, prejudice and misinformation.

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