Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

More harm than good

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On the northern edge of Virden, along the naked rope of asphalt that braids the mummified prairie, there is a nondescript hotel room in a nondescript hotel.

It is a nice hotel but not a Nice one, an everyhotel at best. Its features fade into a pastiche of all the rest, white stucco ceiling and gold-tone frames around pastels of non-specific trees. It boasts amenities ("elevator access to 2nd floor") and a continental breakfast, and a woman at the front desk with gold-tone hair who beams at you upon entry. "Still chilly out there?"

Fwoof, you say, can you believe it, it never seems to end. And she says -- well, you know the rest.

At any rate: in this hotel room, on Wednesday night, lies a writer pressed into a deadline to which she cannot write.

Oh, friends, a writer who can't write is a useless, broken thing. Not broken as a bird with a busted wing, but broken like a fork that's popped a tine: eligible and, quite frankly, worthy to be thrown away at any time. Because really, what value belongs to anything that cannot hold the sustenance for which it was designed? Flipside: a broken fork isn't as silly as someone who dares call themselves a writer, and yet can't write.

All writing, the writer-who-can't reminds herself, starts by loving a single word.

Tonight, in this nondescript everyhotel room on the highway outside of Virden, that word is "harm." The point of living, as I understand it, is to try and do the least harm. Primum non nocere but, to do no harm is not possible. Not by us, not now. There is some measure of harm in too many things, from turning the key in the ignition to popping antibiotics for some uncertain malaise. We are in the years of living dangerously, and are dangerously slow to change.

Oh, and just last week, Donald Trump Tweets: "This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice."


If hell is not yet frozen over, I propose we call to make a special reservation for those who willfully suppress knowledge, in order to flog their favourite harm.


óè óè óè


When loving the word "harm" gets too heavy, the writer-who-can't fires up, the Denver Post's new pot publication.

It's fascinating, crammed full of news (100,000 people bought pot legally in Colorado in the first week of 2014), reviews ("Triple Diesel doesn't have any fruity smell, despite the Strawberry Diesel influence"), and assorted dispatches from the state's infant experience with legalized marijuana. Up here in Virden, half a continent away. It makes you see how things could be, if policies were guided more by facts, and desire not to harm.

There's that word again.

Few domestic policies in North America have done more harm, for so little apparent gain, than marijuana prohibition. While policing the most popular contraband substance on the continent is costly -- especially in the United States, where holding small amounts can still put a person in jail -- it's also notably ineffective. About half of Canadians have toked up at least once, a 2005 Health Canada study found, more than one in six in the last year.

When your average 15-year-old can buy a joint more easily than gin, your prohibition has a problem.

Meanwhile, in exchange for being useless, marijuana prohibition laws have devastated people of colour and poor communities. In the United States, black Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for simple pot possession, even though white Americans report enjoying marijuana at slightly higher rates.

Or, to remember this heartbreaking example: after George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, media and Zimmerman's defence attorneys gleefully revealed that Martin had been suspended from school for having an empty pot baggie and a pipe in his backpack. As if this marked the boy as a bad kid. As if this marked him forever as someone who deserved suspicion, to be followed, and to die.

All this and more, simply that we can clutch our collective pearls over a plant that is demonstrably less harmful to society than booze.

This doesn't need to be a politicized issue. It can simply be a practical one. Because sit you left or sit you right, or even stand you idly by, shouldn't the least -- the rock-bottom and bottom-barrel least -- that you expect, be policy that can be shown to be useful?

There's a word for doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Maybe, the writer-who-can't thinks, she'll write more on this topic next week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 D2

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