There’s an oft-repeated adage, attributed to Einstein, which proclaims the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If this is to be our accepted definition of insanity, we must conclude that, at least in terms of drug policy, our Conservative government is insane.
It all started with the prohibition of alcohol. It didn’t work. It didn’t work because people who wanted to drink, drank anyway because they found other means to get alcohol that was no longer publicly available. They found their alcohol through gangs who illegally produced and/or smuggled the alcohol from other places where it was legal. Naturally for their services risking capture by the long arm of the law, they wanted a big return. They jacked up the prices and people still paid it because they wanted to drink. Organized criminal gangs got rich and powerful. Occasionally, the good guys would win. We’d take down a gang or two, but there would always be ten more willing to take their places in order to profit from the lucrative trade.
It’s been about a hundred years and we still haven’t learned our lesson. Marijuana is illegal, crack is illegal, heroin is illegal. There’s a long list of substances that are illegal. Yet, people who still want to take these substances do it anyway. They find means to do it through illegal dealers who make immense profit. Often, terrorist groups profit from the sale of illicit drugs (especially opiates), which endangers our troops and ultimately makes our country more susceptible to terrorist attacks because groups who have more money have a greater capability to attack us. The long list of illegal substances is getting longer and longer.
The latest is a Conservative attempt to make the now-legal salvia illegal. What’s their justification? Conservative MP Shelley Glover says “The bottom line is that our teens face enough pressure already. And with heavily covered stories of young people in Hollywood using salvia to get high, we have the responsibility to help protect our youth”. Hollywood? If you’ll remember not too long ago, there was a video circulated of teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus taking a hit of salvia (which is also legal in the US). The video attracted widespread condemnation. This was the only video coming out of Hollywood that had anything remotely to do with salvia. Our Conservative government literally watched this video and thought that making ANOTHER substance illegal – when so many others are already illegal – would be a good thing.
These reactionary – and by Einstein’s definition, insane – policy decisions have far reaching consequences. What can be more reactionary than watching a YouTube video and then deciding on making another substance illegal just for the sake of it? Those cheering for salvia to be made illegal may not be cheering so loudly when they see their taxes increase to pay for increased policing costs, prison costs, and judicial costs related to this monstrosity of an idea. You may be thinking “What’s so bad about salvia?” If you watch the Miley Cyrus video, you see her giggling profusely for a few minutes and that’s it. Most salvia users report the same sensation while others report mild hallucinations.
Health Canada discourages salvia use because the long term effects “are not known”. Well, we know that native shamans from Mexico (especially the Mazatec tribe) have been using this stuff for a long time. The evidence is there. This stuff is relatively harmless. When will we finally wake up and learn that the War on Drugs cannot be fought this way? Portugal has taken the extreme measure of legalizing all drugs and actually rehabilitating drug addicts, instead of throwing them in prison. It worked like a charm. Drug use has fallen. Rate of infectious diseases has fallen. It’s worked out great for them. In countries where they have legalized some drugs, usage fell (for example, the Netherlands). The Netherlands has a lower rate of marijuana usage than Canada or the US. The evidence is all around us. Other countries have made intelligent policy decisions that work, and yet here we are, stuck with a government that wants to make a relatively harmless substance illegal and make you pay for all the costs associated with that decision. We’re stuck with hundred year old ideas that didn’t work a hundred years ago and definitely are not working now. Ask a resident of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, held by some to be more violent than Baghdad because of the activities of drug cartels.
This brings me to another point. Why do we have laws? Presumably, we have laws so that we are protected from dangers from others and ourselves. So if there is no danger for which we require protection, what is the point of the law? Can this law be considered moral and democratic and consistent with our values of freedom if it prohibits us from doing something relatively harmless to ourselves (like smoking a hallucinogenic plant)? If this law is acceptable, then what precedent does this set for other harmless activities? What is our standard for laws? Do we accept anything and everything our government tells us or do we have a standard by which we deem laws acceptable or unacceptable?
Presumably, Conservatives want to protect our children from harmful substances (even though substances like salvia and marijuana are far, far less dangerous than legal cigarettes and alcohol). Why aren’t they taking a stand against all of the garbage we consume on a regular basis? What about food dyes we “don’t know the long term effects of”? What about EDTA? What about aspartame and glucose-fructose? What about all the harmful chemicals in hair care products (especially hair spray)? We already know the effects of these chemicals, and yet they’re still in products we consume every day.
If anyone tried to regulate these, the Conservatives would cry foul and would be screaming “COMMUNISM!!! SOCIALISM!!!” like a broken record. Why? Because regulating THOSE substances takes money out of the pockets of large corporations and that’s too high a price to pay for maintaining the health and safety of your children. They’re willing to take a stand against drugs, though, because firstly, a lot of their voters are elderly and religious and both these groups tend to favour criminalizing drug use, and secondly, the government would have a hard time making a profit off of it. It’s hard to tax something you can grow in your tomato garden in your backyard and use yourself, or sell in small quantities to other people.
Yet, this is the same government that will tell you that you can’t fire up your water bong because it’s “harmful”. This is the same government that will allow you to purchase a case of 24, guzzle it down, or buy a carton of cigarettes with a chemical composition designed to make you addicted until you get cancer (and we have to pay for it in our healthcare system), and not only that, but also profit immensely off it, but then turn around and call you a criminal because you decided to grow a certain strain of plant in your backyard that’s far less dangerous than many substances that are currently legal.
So we have countries that are fighting the War on Drugs intelligently and effectively (the evidence is there). Why is Canada not following suit? For every new drug we make illegal, people are devising new drugs that have yet to be made illegal or are using products like mouthwash in order to get drunk. What next; making mouthwash illegal? If marijuana is so horrible, why have we deemed it effective in treating pain in cancer patients? Why is it okay for cancer patients to smoke marijuana (to obviously not too much ill, otherwise it wouldn’t be allowed), but not for a healthy 18 year old?
The final argument I make on this issue is that nowadays, with all levels of government finding themselves in fiscal trouble, legalizing drugs greatly reduces crime, the cost of policing, the cost of prisons, the cost to our judicial and healthcare systems, and more. Rehabilitated citizens are productive citizens who get jobs and pay taxes and contribute to our society and are far better off working than wasting away in a prison for possessing a few grams of marijuana. Our society will be better for it. I say that as someone who has never done drugs and never will. We need to step away from these horrible (and insane) policy decisions that ultimately exacerbate our society’s ails and stop being so reactionary and, again, insane. More than ever, we need a government that will look to serve the people that elected them to power, instead of constantly campaigning and placing Band-Aid, short-term solutions (like criminalizing salvia) on gaping wounds of problems (like the War on Drugs) that require a proper long-term solution that might be unpopular (like legalizing all drugs).
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