Legalizing Pot – II

Back in the 1970s I was convinced it was only a matter of a few years before Canada would make marijuana a legal substance. My thought was that governments wouldn’t be able to resist the tax revenue that could come from making it like alcohol. Why should organized crime get all the income?

What was standing in the way, I maintained, was the lack of a portable roadside screening device, like the breathalyzer, that could be used to test impaired drivers. And I expected there to be a lot of impaired drivers.

Well, that device doesn’t exists yet, as far as I know, and pot is still illegal in Canada except for prescribed medical usage. That will all change if the new Liberal government keeps its promise to legalize marijuana. (I expect them to do that, but would not be surprised if they didn’t. Political promises have a way of disappearing after the votes are counted.) Governments still salivate at the thought of the billions of dollars of revenue that could be added to the treasury if pot sales were legal and taxed, like tobacco and alcohol.

So my opinion on the topic is more or less irrelevant – I think it is going to happen. It’s probably a mistake, but by the time politicians acknowledge that it will be too late.

I am not sure if you can make an argument that the substance has any other purpose than altering reality. I’m a fan of reality. If you don’t like it you can work to change the world rather than change your consciousness. After all, unless you stay stoned all the time you have to come down from your high at some point.

There are health risks involved too, too many studies to be discounted out of hand. Not to mention what is perhaps the biggest risk that strangely never seems to get mentioned. As a society we have discovered beyond a reasonable doubt that inhaling the smoke from a paper cylinder filled with burning leaves that you place in your mouth will have detrimental long-term effect on your lungs. Why would smoking marijuana be any different? Lung cancer rates will rise, which means health costs will rise. Will additional tax revenue be enough to offset that?

Governments spend millions of dollars telling people not to smoke, that it is bad for your health. They spend additional millions warning you about the dangers of alcohol consumption, advocating responsible use. (Those same governments also receive huge amounts of their revenue from taxes on those products. That’s what galls them at the moment about the drug trade – the profits go to the criminals not the government.) I guess soon, after pot is legalized, we’ll see ad campaigns telling people to use it responsibly, paid for, I presume, from the tax money brought in by pot sales.

The idea behind legalizing marijuana (or any other drug – alcohol sales were illegal at one point) is that it solves a social problem. The ongoing “war against drugs” seems to be one society has lost, with organized crime the prime victor. The theory then is that by making the substance legal you can strike a blow to criminal revenue. If that argument makes sense, then why stop at marijuana? Organized crime makes money from a lot of things – hard drugs, human trafficking, gambling (oops, that’s legal most places), prostitution (also legal in a lot of places now) – why not just make all those activities legal and end crime? Could it be that there is a social benefit to restricting some things? We have certainly determined that with highway speed limits. Has anyone done that for marijuana, or is it just trendy to advocate for relaxed drug laws?

I am not convinced though that legalization will do anything more than trade one social problem for another. I guess we are about to find out.


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