Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Petition will give B.C. opportunity to decriminalize pot

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Decriminalizing marijuana is the equivalent of opening the barn door wider after the horses all ran away to let out the last horse that decided to stay behind.

As anyone in law enforcement will admit when they're out of uniform, the Canadian public made its decision about marijuana use decades ago and the law hasn't caught up yet. Many adults simply ignore the law and indulge in a puff or two at their personal discretion. More importantly, these adults and even the ones who don't smoke up from time to time don't see this activity as breaking the law.

When a law has become that irrelevant to the lives of most of the adult population and when it's disregarded with open disdain, it's time to revisit the law.

Residents will have 90 days to support or ignore an Elections B.C. petition starting on Sept. 9 that, if it gets signatures from 10 per cent of the registered voters in each electoral district, would ask the provincial government to consider passing the "sensible policing act." The suggested law would instruct police forces to stop enforcing the current laws regarding the simple possession of pot and to make the rules the same as for alcohol -- it can't be consumed while driving, being stoned behind the wheel could cost you your licence, and it can't be used by minors or sold to them.

If the petition passes the 10 per cent threshold, the provincial government would also be asked for the federal marijuana law to be repealed or for B.C. to get an exemption, which would then allow the province to tax and regulate its sale, just like it does for booze and regular smokes.

If the petition fails, however, it won't be because people don't want pot decriminalized, it will be because most people already think the law is ludicrous and ignore it. In other words, what's the point of decriminalizing behaviour the majority of Canadian adults already finds acceptable?

This also makes the findings of a new study linking pot use to increased cancer rates interesting but somewhat irrelevant. The study by Dr. Russ Callaghan and two Swedish researchers only looked at heavy marijuana use in adolescence and young adult males and how frequently cancer manifested itself over 40 years. Callaghan is the first to admit tobacco and alcohol demonstrably cause much greater physical harm. Furthermore, it would be difficult if not impossible to find a test population that only smoked pot and didn't also use some or a lot of tobacco and alcohol in the past or at present. Some of the variables could be factored into the results but they could be significant enough to skew the results.

Every Canadian adult knows smoking and even being around tobacco smoke is hazardous to health and costs the economy billions in lost productivity and all taxpayers through health-care spending. Alcohol consumption is more socially acceptable than smoking now but alcohol also comes with health ramifications, particularly from heavy use over an extended period of time, as well as the obvious risk drunk drivers pose to public safety.

Despite billions of reasons per year to outlaw smoking and alcohol use, the government does not because it would lose a major source of tax revenue and nobody would follow the law anyway.

Canadian adults have already worked through this logic but the federal and provincial government still have not. At least decriminalization of marijuana possession and use would allow more direct government control over its sale and consumption, not to mention the tax income. The current system simply makes lawbreakers out of a significant portion of the adult population and gives organized crime most of the business proceeds.

The horses are out of the barn and they're not going back in but maybe they can still be found in the field and saddled up.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2013 A13

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