THUNDER BAY – Over the past week, on PBS from the United States, there has been a three part series on Prohibition. The documentary covers the history, implementation and impact of the 18th Amendment banning alcohol in the United States. The banning of alcohol led, in the United States to surges in crime, the creation of the new word scofflaw, and according to the documentary increased alcohol consumption.
In other words, the “noble experiment” simply didn’t work. It could easily be argued that it actually had the completely opposite effect that it intended.
In Canada, and the United States, we are still running prohibition. Marijuana is the banned substance today. The “Prohibition” on Marijuana is as effective as the 18th Amendment was in banning alcohol.
Full disclosure; I have never tried marijuana, or any of its various incarnations. In fact I think it is a drug that does more damage than harm to a majority of its users. If the drug were legal and free, I wouldn’t try it. I just see no need. I prefer to get high on life, and do not see the need for a drug to help me do that.
However, right now we have a system of manufacturing, distribution and sales, that is completely out of control, and is generating more problems for society as a whole than it should.
Banning the drug however and arresting and jailing users is a process that likely will cost the taxpayers of Canada ever more money. What is needed perhaps is a means to put in controls, and legalize the possession of small amounts of the drug by individuals. It is actually pretty bizarre when you think of it, Health Canada recently made decisions to regulate the amount of caffiene in energy drinks, and decided against further regulation on access of the popular products that would keep them out of the hands of children.
However a product that many people use daily is manufactured, sold and consumed without any involvement. Even the sales doesn’t discriminate as many children and teens are able to purchase the drug. Few drug dealers operate their businesses with a social conscience. Drug dealers simply don’t have to care about their customers, and frankly don’t worry about the age of their customers either. Marijuana is, in many cases easier to get than alcohol. A high school student does not need an ‘Age of Majority Card’ to buy from a pusher.
Yet our government is about to enact a new crime bill that will punish drug addicts and users. That legislation will likely do little to reduce the smoking of marijuani in Canada, but by the time that the costs of policing, courts, and jail time is racked up, it will likely offer a hefty bill to taxpayers. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the “War on Drugs” is being lost.
What the current system does is not much different than during prohibition. Back then unscrupulous bootleggers would use anything they could to boost their profits. Today, unscrupulous drug dealers do the same thing. The vast amounts of cash gathered in by bootleggers and pushers and dealers means guns and the potential for more crime. The other point is that usually in major drug busts, it is marijuana and harder drugs that are seized.
Perhaps the solution is one where a similar system to how beer, wine and spirirts are sold in Alberta be adopted in Ontario only with marijuana. In Alberta, private stores are licenced by the government through the Alberta Liquor Control Board, their version of Ontario’s LCBO, then it is sold through private stores. Those stores have to follow all the rules, just like the previously run government operated stores. The government still has inspectors who are monitoring those stores to ensure compliance.
Maybe the route forward in Canada could be taking the entire marijuana business out of its current hands, the criminal element, and having legalized operations growing it, selling it, and having Health Canada setting standards on the quality. Likely some of the former growers of illegal marijuana would be hired by the new legitimate growers and manufacturers.
Even at the retail sales level, stores selling the product would be regulated. Likely there could be “specialty stores” offering higher grades of products. When the private liquor stores opened in Alberta there was stores which offered their expertise in wines, in beers, and in scotch. The number of products that consumers could choose from was greater.
What would change? First all the people in the new “industry” would be paying taxes. Second, the product would be more regulated. Third, while there could be increased use at first, it is also likely over time that due to familiarity and easier access, use might even drop. Regardless, the tax revenues on the now taxed marijuana could be used to treat addiction, and to fight the harder drugs.
The business could turn the current practices on its head. Instead of putting drug users in jail over possession, it would only be the illegal sellers. If the prices were right, likely simple economics would drive them out of the business too.
Instead of spending billions on new jail cells, we could be reaping a bounty in tax revenue that is currently going to the underground economy.
Maybe it is worth looking at? It might be a better way forward than the path we have been following of “Prohibition”. Copying a failure is rarely a path to success.
Creative Content Officer