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War on drugs going to pot

More than half of North Americans support legalizing marijuana

More than half of Canadians and Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a new poll.

A two-country online survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed 57 per cent of Canadians and 54 per cent of Americans support the legalization of the drug and said it should be "readily available for those who want to use it."

The highest support for marijuana legalization in Canada was in the Atlantic provinces, at 64 per cent.

Michael Weinrath, the chairman of the department of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, said the advantages to legalizing marijuana far outweigh the negatives.

"It would lead to us not arresting a large number of Canadians who are not harming anyone," Weinrath said. "It would prevent the cost of processing them through the courts, but even more it would stop the huge enforcement costs. We contribute money to police services and border services. We spend millions on that."

Along with cost savings, Weinrath said he believes marijuana legalization would help control gang activity.

"It would take a huge chunk out of organized crime. A huge amount of money they make is from the drug trade. If we take a huge part of organized crime's revenue stream away they may have to go get real jobs because the money won't come so easy."

Although support for marijuana legalization was strong, that support dropped steeply when those surveyed were asked about legalizing other drugs such as crack cocaine, powder cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and crystal meth, as only 11 per cent or lower in each country said they supported legalizing those drugs.

Weinrath said he is not convinced that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs.

"That's not really proven and the research is not convincing. It's fair to say someone who used heroin probably started with marijuana but if a guy drinks a beer one day and then gets smashed on whisky every night I don't think they would blame the beer."

In Canada, the largest support for legalizing marijuana was among those ages 35 to 54 at 61 per cent while in the U.S., the largest number came from those ages 18 to 34 at 65 per cent.

Weinrath said he believes if Canada were to legalize marijuana, it would lead to a large number of tourists visiting the country.

"Any time you get more tourists coming here it's good for the economy," he said. "It doesn't really matter why they are coming because ultimately they're spending cash here. The government is in the business of making money off of vices anyway. They already do it with alcohol and gambling."

Bart Stras, who owns all The Joint stores in Winnipeg, said the statistics have been consistent for years and that is why it is time for the Canadian government to start looking into new marijuana laws.

"The numbers speak for themselves and it's pretty obvious what the math says," said Stras, who stressed he was speaking on behalf of himself and not his company. "It would bring in lots of tax dollars for the federal, provincial and municipal governments."

The survey also showed that 68 per cent of Canadians and 66 per cent of Americans think the "war on drugs" is a failure and Stras agreed.

"It's something that is there no matter what."

In the online poll, Angus Reid surveyed 1,005 randomly selected Canadian adults and 1,002 randomly selected American adults on Nov. 19 and 20. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 per cent for both countries.


Percentage of Canadians who support marijuana's legalization


Percentage of Canadians ages 35-54 who support legalizing pot



Percentage of Canadians who say the war on drugs is a failure

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2012 A6

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