Monday, January 16, 2012

Marijuana, Politics and the Liberal Party

The US will never legalize Pot

Proposition 19 failed, but the issue will likely be revisited in 2012 and this time it stands a very good chance of passing. Voter turn for mid term elections is always significantly less than when the presidency is up for grabs. For proposition 19 to have stood any chance of winning Democrats, and the young needed to be energized. They were not and stayed away in droves. Even with everything stacked against them, though, the yes campaign still garnered 46% of vote.

A yes vote would kick start a debate stateside that would wipe out any legitimacy prohibition has left in vast swaths of the country. So, while it is likely that a yes vote would likely be contested by whomever is president in 2013, the response is likely to be muted. This will be especially so if Obama wins. Obama is not going to go to war with the biggest State in the Union and one that is heavily Democratic to boot.

Obama's ability to push back would be limited for other reasons as well. He freely admits to having marijuana in the past ("I inhaled frequently. That was the point") and his marijuana use is not a part of some redemption narrative, a la George Bush. It was a path he choice not to continue going down. Drug use was never presented as a demon he had to overcome yet alone one he still struggles with the way an alcoholic does with drink. This would leave him open to the charge of hypocrisy. Far more importantly though, the war and drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, has had a profound impact on the African American community in the States. If Obama was to toe the standard line in the face of California promising to end the war on drugs, he would be in a world of hurt politically. The African American community would not, of course, abandon him, but they would be unhappy and their unhappiness would have the potential to throw his whole relection campaign out of whack politically. His whole message of being the candidate of change would be called into question.

Finally, it was Obama that set the wheels of legalization in motion in the first place by declaring that he would not crack down on medical marijuana. For you see, unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible for medical marijuana. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, such a system is ripe for abuse and the Bush administration was right to see medical marijuana program as a potential Trojan horse. But Obama let the wooden horse to be wheeled into California and other States anyway. In so doing, Obama has allowed the medical marijuana industry in California and elsewhere to grow to the point there is no saving prohibition from Odysseus. There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks. It is not a question of if marijuana will be legalized in the US it is matter of when.

The US will Never Let it happen

Canadians understand that the US, despite prohibition's crumbling foundation there, would not be pleased about legalization. As such, Harper's musings about legalizing marijuana causing trouble at the border seem reasonable enough. The problem is this does not make marijuana prohibition any more legitimate; it just means that Canada is tailoring its own laws to meet the demands of Americans considered so illegitimate that popular cultural considers them a symptom of madness “refer madness”. This can not stand. Any perception that Canada is enforcing laws to met with illegitimate demands of a bullying third party, whoever that may be, is simply poisonous to the health of a functioning democracy.

Moreover, the notion that American prohibition would stand if Canada were to charge ahead with marijuana legalization is wrong. Not only would Canadian boldness create a tidal wave of domestic debate State side, but should Canada have the guts to go through with such a move various European countries (e.g., Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands) Australia and Latin America, Mexico in particular, would soon follow Canada's led. The international dominos would start falling one by one. This in turn would further embolden domestic proponents, especially those in California.

Potent Pot

Potent pot is more myth than reality.

However, even if one assumes that potent pot is a reality it is certainly nothing to be concerned about. Indeed, saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. It makes no sense. The pharmacological affects of consuming 1 "chemically supercharged" joint, as various US attorneys like to say, versus x number of "dad's joints" would be no different if the amount of THC consumed is the same. As for consumption, just as people do not drink the same volume of gin as beer, the higher the THC level in pot the less people consume. Hence, ironically more potent pot may be a welcome development. After all, one of the most prominent health effect related to marijuana, if not the most, is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School concurs, so does Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California and so does UCLA's Mark Kleiman.

That said, if potency is the concern, then it should be legalized. After all, the only way to regulate the potency of pot is to legalize it. Moreover, so long as the drug is illegal, producers will seek to increase potency. The higher the potency the smaller the package the smaller the package the less likely they will get caught.

Finally, the attempt to scare parents that have grown up on marijuana by distinguishing between potent pot and “your dad's marijuana” is too clever by half. After all, it begs the following question. If today's marijuana is truly different in kind from "dads marijuana", would it be ok to legalize "dad's marijuana", i.e., low potency pot?

Gateway Drug

Researchers have rightly noted that 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 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.


Schizophrenia Marijuana

Epidemiological studies have consistently failed to show a positive correlation between marijuana use and schizophrenia and there is no causation without correlation. Specifically, should there be a causal link between marijuana and schizophrenia, there should be a positive correlation between marijuana consumption and schizophrenia, but such a correlation is conspicuous by its absence. Despite a massive increase in the number of Australians consuming the drug since the 1960s, Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland found no increase in the number of cases of schizophrenia in Australia. Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California similarly found the same with regard to the US population and Oxford's Leslie Iversen found the same regard to the population in the UK. According to Dr. Alan Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University,


"If anything, the studies seem to show a possible decline in schizophrenia from the '40s and the ‘ 50,"


Much of the evidence linking marijuana to schizophrenia suggests not that it causes schizophrenia but rather that it may cause the earlier onset of symptoms in people who would sooner or later develop schizophrenia. Much to Gordan Brown's dismay, this was the opinion of Dr Iddon.



Dr Iddon, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drugs misuse [Britain], said the study did not convince him it was time to return cannabis to class B. "I don't think the causal link has been proved. I think cannabis might - possibly for genetic reasons - trigger psychosis at an earlier age." The MP, who is also a member of the science and technology select committee, said there was a danger of criminalising "hundreds of thousands of young people" if the status of the drug was changed. "If Gordon Brown changes the class of the drug, it won't be evidence-based but for political reasons," he said.




The Black Market will live on

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. 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.

The gangs can not walk and chew gum at the same time

One of the arguments that I have repeatedly come across recently is that should marijuana be legalized then the gangs will move onto other things. I prefer to call this the gangs can not walk and chew gum at the same time argument.

The problem with this argument is that the gangs are already into other things and it is profits from marijuana that are helping them do that. In the context of Canada, marijuana profits and sometimes even marijuana itself are providing the seed capital the gangs need to expand operations into the States, for example, and to diversify operations (e.g., cocaine, heroin, human trafficking and guns). It is not like the gangs have excess to capital markets. This is one of the main reasons why we need to nip this in the bud.


The Failure of Past Liberal Policy

A promise to legalize marijuana would be a welcome respite from the Liberals shamelessly taking inherently contradictory policies in hopes of capitalizing on both sides of this issue.

Indeed, on the one hand the Liberals have 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 on behalf of the Liberal party that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

Far from helping the Liberals such an approach probably harmed them. It angered ardent supporters of both sides of the political divide at the same time and prevented the Liberals from saying anything intelligent about the issue. Moreover, as far the general public is concerned, the Liberals have gained nothing by trying to emulate the Conservative's tough on crime stance. The reason is simple. As Tom Flanagan crowed after the 2006 election that there are certain issues that just favour the Conservatives. The example he gave was the economy. No matter how successful the Liberals were in balancing the books and creating jobs, Conservative research suggested that when it came to economics people trusted the Conservatives more than they did the Liberals. It does not much of leap to suggest the same is true for crime. After all, to presume that the public has a working knowledge of each party's justice policies is giving the public way too much credit; the public trades in stereotypes and they are always going to believe that Conservatives are tougher on crime. This is especially so now. The Conservatives are in power and for this reason alone what they say with regard to crime garners headlines. By contrast, past Liberal support for some those Conservative tough on crime measures has drawn almost no attention at all. Of course, even if the Liberals were able to convince Canadians did support this or that Conservative measure, the Conservatives have a fail safe. They have claimed and will continue to claim that the Liberals had ability to introduce such policies when they were in power and failed to do so. No one likes a Johnny come lately.

Of course, Liberal bad faith goes much deeper than playing both sides against the middle. Despite a long term commitment to decriminalize marijuana the Liberals have failed to act for fear of angering the Americans. The Marc Emery case is a great example of Liberal cowardness. For years Marc Emery had been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federal taxes on money he made “selling marijuana seeds”. Yet in 2005, at the behest of the American government, Canada arrested Emery so that he could face charges in the US. Emery pleaded guilty to the US charges and was sent the US to serve a 5 year prison term for crime that had not been prosecuted in Canada for 7 years and had only ever warranted a $200 fine. It gets worse. Under the terms of the extradition treaty, one can not be extradited if one is facing the same charge in one’s country of residence and one was arrested there. So, a BC marijuana activist tried to save Emery from being sent to the States by having Emery charged under Canadian law. His efforts were unsuccessful. Despite a mountain of evidence against him, Canadian authorities were unwilling to charge Emery under Canadian law.

So long as the debate is centered around sentencing, the Conservatives win. The Liberals need to shift the focus from punishment to the legitimacy of various laws. This is the only way of Liberals will be able to starve the Conservatives' populist tough on crime agenda of oxygen.

1 comment:

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