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Smoking is losing to toking

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RICHMOND -- Justin Trudeau, the latest new leader of the Liberal party, was out here in Vancouver in July to announce a policy plank in his party's platform. He has decided he is not in favour of decriminalizing pot. No. He is in favour of legalizing it so it can be taxed and regulated to keep our children safe. He was greeted with cheers and applause. At least that's what it sounded like on the radio clip I heard.

In other news, our city fathers in their infinite wisdom have banned cigarette smoking everywhere. It has been illegal to smoke inside for some time, and now it is illegal to smoke outside, in any public place including parks and beaches. There was even a rumour that a condo voted to ban owners from toking, oops, I mean smoking, inside their own apartments.

I think we're in the silly season, as John le Carr© so aptly put it -- the season when bureaucracy and government leaders and those in charge of us, go bonkers and completely flip their lids.

To crystallize this moment in time for casual observers, here's what we've got:

Downtown on the lawn of the old Courthouse (now the Vancouver Art Gallery, an elegant and stately edifice) the air is pungent with pot smoke. Pot smokers can light up with impunity, anywhere and any time under the very noses of the Vancouver police, who studiously examine their fingernails or stare up at the sky. Meanwhile, we have zealous city bylaw officers patrolling our public parks and beaches, pouncing out of bushes to ferret out tobacco smokers. Anyone caught with a cigarette will be given a $200 ticket on the spot. And don't even think of trying the "but sir I didn't inhale" defence. These guys don't have a sense of humour. Besides, that only works with pot and if your surname is Clinton.

As I see it, tobacco smokers have two options: Either mingle with potheads and pretend you are smoking marijuana, or start a petition to get tobacco declared illegal so you can smoke in peace.

But back to legalizing pot. Being a moderate libertarian, I am in favour of legalizing cannabis. It seems silly to outlaw a plant.

Trudeau fils has adeptly carved out a position on what he hopes will be a wedge issue in the election two years hence.

But, if he's serious about this, and serious about curbing kids' pot habits, then he needs to go much further. It's one thing to tax and regulate. It's quite another to achieve a lowering of drug usage among the population. (I assume this would be one of Trudeau's key objectives.)

Canada is very good at how it deals with legal drugs. We have more or less hit the sweet spot as far as tobacco is concerned. Smoking is at an all-time low and keeps going down. This is a good thing.

So, before we legalize pot, we need to address a few things. The first one is vital: Pot is a psychoactive, mind-altering drug that impairs thinking and motor function. For pot, we need an easily administered roadside test for impairment, similar to the breathalyzer test we have for alcohol. Colorado and Washington states have set pot blood-impairment levels at five nanograms per millilitre. Fine. Now they need to figure out how to test that legally and efficiently. Let's watch what they do.

Second, we need to put sufficient funding in place to treat those addicted to pot, as we do for gambling and alcohol. We also need funding to defray the extra cost to the health-care system due to pot's deleterious effect on the respiratory system, which is similar to tobacco.

Third, we need to implement propaganda in the school system, to counter the siren call of pot, just as we have done with tobacco and other addictive substances. The results for tobacco have been wildly successful. Shaming and blaming, disparagement, ostracizing, social isolation, ridicule, derision, widespread disapproval and other techniques have worked miracles.

We need teachers to send their little charges home, armed with anti-pot facts, stats and pamphlets designed to scare their parents into quitting their pot habit. Since more kids smoke pot now than cigarettes, this will have a good effect on the next generation, just as it's had with tobacco.

Of course, it goes without saying large, evil multinational pot manufacturers wouldn't be allowed to advertise.

Those of us not suffering from memory loss due to pot-smoking might recall former Liberal minister Allan Rock railing against Big Tobacco even while continuing to reap a tidy profit from taxes on pot sales.

If Trudeau the Younger's pot initiative is successful, and the Liberals form the government in 2015, I look forward to hearing his health minister accuse Big Cannabis of putting private profit ahead of public health.

I also look forward to hearing, like, where he stands on other government stuff, yunno? Stuff like health care? Yah, and, like, the economy? Yah. Stuff like that.


Marilyn Baker is a freelance writer in Richmond, B.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2013 A9

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