MONDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — People rallied by the thousands Sunday, but it had nothing to do with Easter. In 4/20 rallies in cities across the country, pro-marijuana advocates gathered to demand the legalization of weed.
In Kamloops, about 100 were at McDonald Park. In Vancouver, thousands crowded around the art gallery. In Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Halifax, Windsor, Hamilton and Winnipeg, even Niagara Falls, it was much the same. It’s called 4/20 because at 4:20 p.m. on the 20th day of the fourth month each year participants toke on joints or munch on marijuana brownies to show their solidarity in the cause.
The laws around marijuana, and their enforcement, are in a state of unhappy flux. Carl Anderson, who spoke at the Kamloops rally, once operated a “compassion club” on Tranquille road whose patrons were people who smoke dope for medical reasons.
RCMP moved in and shut him down three years ago. Anderson spent a night in jail, bringing new attention here to the issue of how best to supply marijuana for medical purposes while at the same time keeping it controlled. Anderson and other pot advocates think the simplest and best thing to do is to legalize it.
But the public at large takes a different view. A Sensible B.C. campaign last year collected more than 200,000 signatures in B.C. but it wasn’t nearly enough to force a referendum on decriminalization.
Those who oppose decriminalization or legalization worry that it’s a gateway drug, that it might be a good pain reliever but that it has other medical consequences, that negative behaviour such as impaired driving will be increased.
The dichotomy on marijuana is played out in our politics as much as it is over the water coolers of the nation. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair favours decriminalization, while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau favours outright legalization.
“The fact of the matter is our current approach on marijuana — the prohibition that Stephen Harper continues to defend — is failing in two primary ways,” Trudeau has said. “The first one is it is not protecting our kids from the negative impacts of marijuana on the developing brain.
“Secondly, we are funnelling millions upon millions of dollars each year into organized crime and criminal gangs.”
While the federal Conservatives have said no to legalization, the laws around medical marijuana production have changed, some say for the worse. Those in favour of the new rules say they will result in safer production and distribution of medical marijuana; those opposed say they’ll make it harder for those who need it, and the supply will be controlled by big business interests.
The Conservatives’ position on marijuana, as explained by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod, is this: “Marijuana, whether you’re talking about the effects, the toxicity in terms of the human body are incredible. To legalize a substance that is incredibly toxic and is going to create a huge impact on our health-care system cost doesn’t really make sense.”
But the legalization issue goes beyond medicinal use — recreational users want easier access, too. And the legalization movement is making some inroads, such as in the Colorado and Washington state examples where legalization has found favour with voters.
What’s the answer? Maybe, at least in the short term, it’s in making pot possession subject to a fine rather than to a charge, as Canadian police chiefs have suggested. Even that won’t satisfy pot advocates, though. In the long run, it’s getting more and more difficult to answer the question, “Who’s the victim?” when it comes to marijuana use.