Oh Cannabis!: Canada going up in smoke?
By Rachel Marsden
Canadian senators did the unimaginable this week when they tabled a report proposing that marijuana be legalized, taxed for government profit, and sold to anyone over the age of sixteen. Personally, I think the members of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs should put down the bong and slowly step away.
The report reflects a pathetically defeatist "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. It states, "a look at trends in cannabis use, both among adults and young people, forces us to admit that current policies are ineffective". Then it goes on to point out that these "ineffective policies" basically amount to de facto decriminalization since "police maintain that the vast majority of cannabis possession charges are incidental to other police responsibilities" that deal with other types of criminal activity. So if there's already a lenient police policy in place with respect to cannabis consumption, and "Canadian youth still appear to have the highest rate of cannabis use in the world", then this should tell us something about the futility of heading any further down the legalization path. Furthermore, the increase in drug misuse over the past 25 years does not justify abandoning any law that tries to control drugs. Such an approach is nothing more than a copout.
Numerous studies have shown that the mere notion of something being against the law is an automatic deterrent for some people. Now these senators are considering lifting all possible barriers that may have, up until now, played a role in keeping the number of Canadian potheads to a minimum. Moreover, they're suggesting in their report that kids aged sixteen and older should be given the green light to toke up at will. Sure, and why don't they put boxes of joints right beside the five-cent gum at 7-Eleven stores while they're at it?
Canadian Senate Committee Co-Chairman Pierre-Claude Nolin claims that marijuana use is "a personal choice", but what about the "personal choice" of the poor people who are forced to endure harmful second-hand pot smoke at concerts, events, bars and nightclubs? What about their right not to inhale someone else's toxins? What about their right not to get high on the account of inadvertent exposure to someone else's bad habit? Marijuana contains 2,000 crude chemicals--some of which are carcinogens stronger than those found in cigarettes. The senate report suggests that "only offences involving significant direct danger to others should be matters of criminal law". Given the direct dangers associated with second-hand pot smoke, why these politicians would even entertain the thought of legalization is beyond me. There's a fine line between libertarianism and selfishness, and it would seem that Nolin's statement represents a bold leap across that line.
Some of the most glaring examples of blatant stupidity in the report are contained in the section that addresses the effects and consequences of cannabis use. This is where we get to witness the pathetic display of our politicians trying to play doctor-scientist. The document states that "long term effects [of cannabis use] on cognitive functions have not been established in research". It goes on to say that cannabis use can cause short-term memory loss, loss of coordination and loss of concentration, but that the effects wear off and there is no long-term damage. Do the senators really need to look to a book or a research paper to see the "long term effects" of cannabis on cognitive functions? Surely some of them were around during the '60s and '70s and have witnessed some walking casualties of pot's heyday.
Amazingly, the report finds that "cannabis alone has little effect on the skills involved in driving. Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving." If this is the case, then why are people under the influence of marijuana ten times more likely to be involved in fatal traffic collisions than people driving under the influence of alcohol? Since marijuana impairs coordination and judgment, it is, in fact, a major cause of accidents.
The report also says that cannabis use can cause short-term memory loss, loss of coordination and loss of concentration, but that these effects wear off and there is no long-term damage. The senators suggest that we can all feel safe and secure in knowing that, "most long-term users integrate their use into their family, social and occupational activities." Great. Perhaps the senators figure that a second-hand high from Cousin Jimmy's fatties would be a nice little added bonus for everyone at the annual family picnic?
The proponents of legalization are neither scientists nor doctors. Anyone who bothers to look at the scientific facts would find that there are more than 1,000 studies showing the harmful effects of marijuana, including a study which indicates that marijuana use chemically alters the brain, leading to an increased propensity to use other drugs. Marijuana has been proven to be a gateway drug, despite what the senate committee would have you believe by dismissing the notion completely in its report.
Canadian senators would also have us believe that physical and psychological dependency on marijuana are mere figments of our imagination. However, during a 1997 hearing of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Ronald Brooks--the Past President of the California Narcotic Officers Association--pointed out that "in 1994, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reported that more persons are being admitted to treatment for marijuana use than for heroin addiction. Dr. Daryl Inaba of the Haight Ashbuty Free Clinic in San Francisco states that marijuana is a highly addictive drug which contains more than 360 chemicals that affect the brain. When smoked, marijuana produces over 2,000 chemicals, including hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, acetone, phenol, cresol, naphthalene, and several carcinogens. Many of the cancer-causing substances are present in higher concentrations in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke. Dr. Eric Voth, MD, has stated that "marijuana is clearly addictive and is responsible for behavioral, intellectual and cognitive deficits, and is responsible for severe side-effects to the pulmonary, reproductive and immune systems".
Then there's the myth that if we legalize pot, it will bankrupt the underground black market. Wrong. The black market will simply turn to selling harder drugs in order to recoup profits. And it appears that the senators have forgotten all about the huge US market that lies just below us--a country that has the sense to keep all-around harmful drugs illegal. I doubt our politicians will be allowed to forget about the Americans and their views on the pot legalization issue for long, though. Surely it won't be long before the "weed hits the bong", so to speak.
And if Canada's powers-that-be think they can use legalized, regulated marijuana as a new source of tax revenue, they might want to first consider the fact that their newfound windfall could be eaten up by health costs associated with pot smoking. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have identified a strong link between smoking marijuana and throat cancer. During a hearing of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Dr. Janet Lapey, MD, of the Concerned Citizens for Drug Prevention, said that "marijuana is linked to cases of cancer, including cancer of the lungs mouth, throat, lip, and tongue". She goes on to point out that it also "causes respiratory diseases and mental disorders, including psychosis, depression, panic attacks, hallucinations, paranoia, hostility, depersonalization, flashbacks, decreased cognitive performance, disconnected thought, delusions, and impaired memory".
Is this really the kind of society Canada wants to create in order to make its mark on the world? A society that shows compassion towards potheads who don't have any respect for their own health and safety, or for anyone else's? One can only hope that our more level-headed American cousins can stage an intervention of some sort, and help pull our politicians' heads out of this dope-happy hazy daze before Canada truly goes to pot.