Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Henry Aubin and Marijuana

Henry Aubin of the Montreal Gazette does not like the Liberals voting in Favour of legalizing Marijuana.


"It declares the ban has "exhausted countless billions of dollars spent" on ineffectual enforcement. This is the familiar argument that, because drugs remain so common in society, the war on them is a waste of money. But the war on cancer, the war on illiteracy and the war on terror are also falling far short of victory. Yet no one ever calls for ending those campaigns."

First of all, there have been plenty of people who have called for end to War on Terrorism, but I digress. It is just odd to lump "the war on cancer and war on illiteracy" in with the war on drugs. No one has ever argued that the first two do more harm than good. That is in marked constrast to the latter. What the Liberals should have noted in their motion is the war on weed does more harm than good and it cost a mint too.

"The resolution says that once a Liberal government legalizes marijuana it will tax it. Wow: Government, not traffickers, would rake in the billions.

Yet if government were to slap a high tax on marijuana, it would create a market for private dealers who'd sell it for less. (Think of the black market for cheap cigarettes.)"

Reading this you would think because of the existence of black market cigarettes provincial governments do not rack in billions from the sale of cigarettes, but, of course, they do just that. You are also forgetting something. The main reason black market cigarettes are problem is that they are cheaper in the US. The situation is only angalgous if the US also legalized marijuana and it was cheaper here than there. (For various reasons I think that if Canada were to proceed with legalization the US would also go ahead with same, but that is for another time.)

After all, it is not like illegal US producers are going to undercut legal Canadian ones. Indeed, it is one thing to illegally sell a legally produced product and make a profit, e.g., black market cigarettes. It is quite another thing to illegally produce and sell a product (e.g., moonshine) in market where there is legal competitors. The reason is simple. The illegality of the product means that your production and distribution costs are significantly higher. Also demand for your product is always going to be less. People want to know that what they buying and consuming. So when given the choice of buying an illegally produced product versus a legally produced product they are going to go with the later. (There is one notable exception and that is when an illegally produced product is successfully passed off as a legal one, e.g., fake brand name goods). That is why no matter how much Canadians drank during the time of American prohibition, I am sure that it never crossed the RCMP’s mind that American moonshine might become a competitor of Molson’s.

"However, in addition to the golden opportunity that a high tax would give them, illegal dealers would also find a ready market for superior strains of marijuana."

Like I said, an illegal competitor is just not going to be able to compete with a legal one.

"Note, too, that the illegal drug industry as a whole would stay strong: The market for cocaine, heroin, crack, crystal meth, etc., would remain. The idea that legalization of pot would significantly shrink the role of gangs, and thus save taxpayers billions in law-enforcement costs, is magical thinking."

The market for marijuana positively dwarfs the market for all other drugs combined. So while profit margins on these other drugs are higher, marijuana is the gangs' biggest money maker by far. Moreover, marijuana profits and sometimes even marijuana itself are providing the seed capital the gangs need to diversify operations (e.g., cocaine, heroin, human trafficking and guns) and to expand those other operations. It is not like the gangs have access to capital markets. This is one of the main reasons why we need to nip this in the bud.

Legalization of marijuana may also rob gangs of would be customers for these other drugs. As researchers have long noted, people who have try marijuana are statistically more likely try other illicit drugs. This gave raise to the theory that there was something about marijuana that encouraged drug experimentation. Marijuana, it was alleged, is a gateway drug. This, in turn, was given as one more reason to keep the drug illegal. However, the gateway drug theory has until recently fallen on hard times for lack of an intelligible mechanism. The problem was that there was no coherent explanation for why marijuana would lead people to experiment with other drugs. Without this explanation doubt was cast relationship being more than mere correlation. That said, in recent years researchers have breathed new life into the theory, albeit with a sociological twist. According to the new version, it is not marijuana's pharmacological properties that serve as a gateway, but rather marijuana's illegal status. Specifically in the process of illegally procuring marijuana, users are introduced to the criminal elements with access to other illicit drugs and hence it is the forged blackmarket relationship between dealer and buyer that serves as gateway. Ironically the gateway drug theory has been turned on its head and used as reason for legalizing the drug. The Canadian Senate employed the new and improved version of the gateway argument as a reason for legalizing the drug in its 2002 report.

In this context it should be noted that when the Dutch partially legalized the sale of marijuana, heroin and cocaine use went down despite an initial increase in marijuana use. Dutch use of hard drugs remains well below the European average.

"If the Liberals want to be a positive force, they could return to the stance they had a decade ago. They then wanted the justice system to cease clobbering citizens with criminal charges for possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana (and instead to simply fine them, as for parking offences)."

Yes the Liberals long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is this light that Chrétien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.” On the other hand, just as they long downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana they have long stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Both positions are popular with the public, but run the two positions together and it is as if Chrétien said this instead. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me in put him in jail for a very long time.” If the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to mix an acknowledgment that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

1 comment:

lagatta à montréal said...

Aubin has become very reactionary in his dotage. He used to be a very good writer on urban issues; of late he has come out against abortion, and bicycles.