In business news, shares of Hells Angels Inc and Rock Machine SA soared on the introduction of the Conservative’s new “get tough on drugs” legislation. Industry sources report they are pleased with the new initiative that will push up prices and profit margins. This is seen as a welcome about-face from the federal government compared to the flirtation with decriminalization contemplated by Canada’s Old Government.
“The added risk of jail terms will definitely have a positive impact on prices,” stated a source known only as Rocco. “A couple years ago it looked like we were hooped, with all of that decriminalization crap, since all of the big money is in selling pot.”
In all seriousness, this “tough on drugs” policy panders to zealots and is just plain dumb. It will not work, wastes public resources on policing and courts, and is going to make the problem of organized crime worse and more deadly. Here is what the Senate Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs (focusing on cannabis) concluded in 2002:
This final section sets out the main conclusions that emerge from all this information and presents the resulting recommendations that derive from the thesis we have developed namely: in a free and democratic society, which recognizes fundamentally but not exclusively the rule of law as the source of normative rules and in which government must promote autonomy insofar as possible and therefore make only sparing use of the instruments of constraint, public policy on psychoactive substances must be structured around guiding principles respecting the life, health, security and rights and freedoms of individuals, who, naturally and legitimately, seek their own well-being and development and can recognize the presence, difference and equivalence of others.
LE DAIN – ALREADY THIRTY YEARS AGO
Thirty years ago, the Le Dain Commission released its report on cannabis. This Commission had far greater resources than did we. However, we had the benefit of a much more highly developed knowledge base and of thirty years’ historical perspective.
The Commission concluded that the criminalization of cannabis had no scientific basis. Thirty years later, we can confirm this conclusion and add that continued criminalization of cannabis remains unjustified based on scientific data on the danger it poses.
The Commission heard and considered the same arguments on the dangers of using cannabis: apathy, loss of interest and concentration, learning difficulties. A majority of the Commissioners concluded that these concerns, while unsubstantiated, warranted a restrictive policy. Thirty years later, we can assert that the studies done in the meantime have not confirmed the existence of the so-called amotivational syndrome and add that most studies rule out this syndrome as a consequence of the use of cannabis.
The Commission concluded that not enough was known about the long-term and excessive use of cannabis. We can assert that these types of use exist and may present some health risks; excessive use, however, is limited to a minority of users. Public policy, we would add, must provide ways to prevent and screen for at-risk behaviour, something our policies have yet to do.
The Commission concluded that the effects of long-term use of cannabis on brain function, while largely exaggerated, could affect adolescent development. We concur, but point out that the long -term effects of cannabis use appear reversible in most cases. We not also that adolescents who are excessive users or become long-term users are a tiny minority of all users of cannabis. Once again, we would add that a public policy must prevent use at an early age and at-risk behaviour.
The Commission was concerned that the use of cannabis would lead to the use of other drugs. Thirty years’ experience in the Netherlands disproves this very clearly, as do the liberal policies of Spain, Italy and Portugal. And here in Canada, despite the growing increase in cannabis users, we have not had a proportionate increase in users of hard drugs.
The Commission was also concerned that legalization would mean increased use, among the young, in particular. We have not legalized cannabis, and we have one of the highest rates in the world. Countries adopting a more liberal policy have, for the most part, rates of usage lower than ours, which stabilized after a short period of growth.
Thirty years later, we note that:
- Billions of dollars have been sunk into enforcement without any greater effect: there are more consumers, more regular users and more regular adolescent users;
- Billions of dollars have been poured into enforcement in an effort to reduce supply, without any greater effect: cannabis is more available than ever, it is cultivated on a large scale, even exported, swelling coffers and making organized crime more powerful; and
- There have been tens of thousands of arrests and convictions for the possession of cannabis and thousands of people have been incarcerated; however, use trends remain totally unaffected and the gap the Commission noted between the law and public compliance continues to widen.
It is time to recognize what is patently obvious: our policies have been ineffective, because they are poor policies. …
A REGULATORY APPROACH TO CANNABIS
The prohibition of cannabis does not bring about the desired reduction in cannabis consumption or problem use. However, this approach does have a whole series of harmful consequences. Users are marginalized and over 20,000 Canadians are arrested each year for cannabis possession. Young people in schools no longer enjoy the same constitutional and civil protection of their rights as others.
Organized crime benefits from prohibition and the criminalization of cannabis enhances their power and wealth. It is a well-known fact that society will never be able to stamp out drug use – particularly cannabis use.
Some might believe that an alternative policy signifies abandoning ship and giving up on promoting well-being for Canadians. Some might maintain that a regulatory approach would fly in the face of the fundamental values of our society. We believe, however, that the continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of Canadians much more than the regulated marketing of the substance. In addition, we believe that the continued criminalization of cannabis undermines the fundamental values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and borne out by the history of a country based on diversity and tolerance.
We do not want to see cannabis use increase, especially among young people. Of note, the data from other countries that we compared in Chapters 6 and 20 indicate that countries such as the Netherlands, Australia or Switzerland, which have put in place a more liberal approach, have not seen their long-term levels of cannabis use rise.
The same data also clearly indicate that countries with a very restrictive approach, such as Sweden and the United States, are poles apart in terms of cannabis use levels, and that countries with similar liberal approaches such as the Netherlands and Portugal are also at opposite ends of the spectrum, falling somewhere between Sweden and the United States. We have concluded that public policy itself has little effect on cannabis use trends and that other more complex and poorly-understood factors play a greater role in explaining the variations.
An exemption regime making cannabis available to those over the age of 16 would probably lead to an increase in cannabis use for a certain period. Use rates would then level out as interest wanes and as effective prevention programs are set up. This would then be followed by a roller-coaster pattern of highs and lows, as has been the case in most other countries.
This approach is neither one of total abdication nor a sign of giving up but rather a vision of the role of the State and criminal law as developing and promoting but not controlling human action and as stipulating only necessary prohibitions relating to the fundamental principle of respect for life, others and a harmonious community, and as supporting and assisting others and not judging and condemning difference.
We might wish for a drug-free world, fewer tobacco smokers or alcoholics or less prescription drug dependency, but we all know that we shall never be able to eliminate these problems. More importantly, we should not opt to criminalize them. The Committee believes that the same healthy and respectful approach and attitude should be applied to cannabis.
- Re-reading Hirschman (May 6th, 2013)
- Who Benefits from M&A? (March 2nd, 2013)
- Boost the Minimum Wage, Boost the Economy (February 27th, 2013)
- How Productivity Falls When Planes Takeoff and Land (February 22nd, 2013)
- Guest Blog: David Fairey on the History of the Trade Union Research Bureau (January 21st, 2013)