Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A hemispheric view of pot law

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The Organization of American States, a hemispheric group to which Canada and the United States belong, issued a report after a year of careful study that raises legalization of marijuana as a way to battle the high social and financial cost of prohibition. Canada should welcome the OAS's call to recognize pot as a drug to be regulated, like alcohol.

The report's analysis says that after decades of expensive law enforcement, it is not clear what works in battling the illegal drug trade and the crime, violence and social and health toll of addictions. The cultivation and production of illegal drugs is highest in South and Central American countries, which suffer greater social and security harm. In Canada and the United States, drug use and abuse is higher, as are the health costs.

The report pulls its punches in many of its observations after analysing the evidence from across the hemisphere. It notes that many South American countries allow drug possession for personal use. There is no appetite for legalizing hard drugs, which are far more addictive and harmful, but the report concludes that the hemispheric trend toward legalization of marijuana is a worthy alternative to be examined.

Colorado and Washington state have most recently entered the discussion with laws that regulate and tax marijuana. Washington intends to control the production, distribution and sale through its liquor board.

The OAS, all but condemning the U.S. war on drugs as a failure, points out that the huge masses of cash now poured into enforcement, and the human toll extracted due to the criminal market that fuels gangs, violence and predation, far outweigh the money spent on treating the disease of addiction.

Repeated court judgments in Canada have also recognized the comparatively tame risks of marijuana. From that springs the legitimate consternation of a population that has, for generations now, enjoyed the recreational use of marijuana over the criminal sanctions imposed for pot possession and use.

The U.S. is grappling with the internal dissonance created by federal laws that prohibit marijuana, even as more states liberate pot use. Canada has yet to go there despite the popular support for decriminalization. The OAS report offers no prescription, but makes plain that a rational approach would take pot out of the realm of organized crime, where it can draw otherwise law-abiding citizens into far more dangerous pursuits.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 A10

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