CALGARY — Legalizing marijuana use in Canada could be the best way, and maybe the only way, to protect children inclined or forced to use the stuff.
That’s the view of Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and the only Canadian political figure of note to have the guts to speak to the issue.
Immediately and predictably attacked by his political opponents, Trudeau is none the less right to suggest that we, as a society, need to consider new approaches to an ages old problem.
Trudeau’s view is likely new to most Canadians, though he has mused about it publicly before. Readers might also be surprised to hear that many Latin American politicians and policy analysts are saying the same thing.
The issue is far too complex to address in a short column, but we can agree there is a need to explore alternatives of our current way of dealing with drugs.
Let’s also allow that marijuana use will damage your health, and that legalization would have consequences. There is a tendency among most politicians and editorialists to use that argument to dismiss change out-of-hand, when they should be willing to at least explore the possibilities.
The argument for legalization would primarily be an acknowledgement of failed social policy. It is a fact, even a sad one, that human beings will explore the use of substances that alter their state of mind. It is certainly sad that many millions of North Americans live desperate lives as a result of overuse and resulting addiction.
The question of what is to be done about it is challenging.
It was U.S. President Richard Nixon who established the so-called "war on drugs" in the 1970s, which beefed up policing and military activities in the United States and in countries around the world that supplied drugs to American users.
That "war" has been a complete, abject, costly, failure on all levels. Drug use is more rampant now than then. Highly militarized and monumentally wealthy cartels are also trafficking in armaments and humans, as well as drugs. Our response politically has been to spend even more money, only to see 50,000-plus people killed in Mexico alone over the past half-dozen years.
Ironically, even though the United States, and by geography Canada, are the main markets for drugs in North America, the most active minds and voices on the subject are in Latin America.
As recently as May of this year, an Organization of American States report concluded that governments of the hemisphere need look seriously at the potential value of legalizing marijuana. The OAS has never been known for its radical take on things, and is in fact highly conservative. It has been forced into taking this stance by its members, with Canada and the U.S. on the wrong side of the prevailing view.
Predictably, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have dismissed the idea out of hand. It is mind-boggling that such smart men are so afraid of considering the idea, particularly when so many equally smart people are open to its consideration. It seems that Obama and Harper are satisfied with the status quo, the deaths, social disruption and gang violence in their communities.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance on the planet, driving an underground industry in the billions. Making its use legal could severely impact gang activity everywhere. Selling it as we do alcohol and cigarettes would allow for limits on strength and additives, and control in sales to minors. Tobacco styled warnings could be put on packages, and driving under the influence treated severely. The billions of dollars generated in taxes could be used to treat addictions for all kinds of drug use and pay for public education campaigns.
People will continue to use drugs and our choice is to either continue advancing policing and military responses or to examine reasonably considered alternatives. Justin Trudeau should be applauded for having the courage to address the issue. It would be nice to see other Canadian policy-makers, political analysts, and editorialists join in a serious examination of the possibility and potential of change.
Troy Media columnist Terry Field is an associate professor and program chair of the journalism major in the bachelor of communication program at Mount Royal University, in Calgary.