Op-Ed: Harper, Ignatieff fear reefer madness

Posted Mar 17, 2010 by Richard Mccallum
In a YouTube question period with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the four most popular questions concerned legalization of pot. Not to be outdone, Michael Ignatieff also warned about marijuana use and said there are no plans to legalize it.
The 40 minute Q&A session with Canada's Prime Minister was webcast after a one-hour delay in it's schedule.
During the question period, Harper defended his government's policies on subjects ranging from mandatory minimum prison sentences to the seal hunt.
The most popular questions, however, centered on the legalization of pot in Canada.
In fairness to the Prime Minister and The Honorable leader of The Opposition, I will include their full quote on the subject and my comments will follow so that a debate can be balanced and full.
Let's start with Prime Minister Harper:
The webcast was moderated by Patrick Pichette from Google and a transcript can be found here.
Patrick Pichette said:
The question with the most votes tackled the subject of marijuana, and is written as follows: "A majority of Canadians when polled say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults, just like alcohol.
Why don't you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals?"
Prime Minister Harper answered:
Well, it's a good question. I'm not sure I've seen this particular poll. There are different polls on the subject that show different things.... As I see it, it would be surprising for a politician as astute as Harper to not study the polls concerning this subject which is of importance to many Canadians here is a poll on the subject.
Harper continued:
...But you know I have to say young children, I guess they're now...Ben and Rachel are getting pretty close to 14 and 11,but maybe they are not young,but they are at the age, where you know, they will increasingly come into contact with drug use, and I guess as a parent, you know this is the last thing I want to see for my kids or anyone else's children.
As a parent, he has a right to be concerned about his children's health and welfare, however the question was about legalization of marijuana for adults. Here is some advice which may help parents effectively deal with teen-age marijuana use.
Harper coninued:
You know I understand that people defend the use of drugs,but that said, I don't think....I think I've been fortunate to live a drug free life, and I don't meet many people who have led a drug free life who regret it Met a lot of people who haven't who regretted it.
This is not unlike Bill Clinton's speech about his bad brother Roger Clinton. PM Harper is doing well in a drug-free life-that others wish to live a different way is their democratic right, yes there are many drug casualties, but they are not the majority, here is how the California initiative to legalize marijuana deals with this.
Harper said:
So this is something that we want to encourage obviously for our children,for everybody's children.
Again with the children- the question was about legalization of marijuana for adults.
Harper continued:
Now I also want people to understand what we're really talking about when we're talking about the drug trade. You know, when people say focus on violent crime instead of drugs, and yeah there are a lot of crimes worse than the casual use of marijuana.
But when people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbor.They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe all across the world. All across the world. You know and I just wish people would understand that, and not just on drugs, even when people buy an illegal carton of cigarettes and they avoid tax, that they really understand the kind of criminal networks that they are supporting and the damage they do.
Here is an essay that states legalization of marijuana in Canada would reduce crime.
Harper went on to say:
Now you know, I know some people say if you legalized it, you know, you'd get the money and all would be well.
But I think it rests on the assumption that somehow drugs are bad because they are illegal.The reason's not that...The reason drugs are illegal is because they are bad.
Well, this is a bit of a judgment call and there is no doubt that everything can be harmful to the human body. Here is a link that disproves this myth.
Harper goes on:
And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people. Because the very nature of the dependency they create.
On the contrary; I would suspect that many citizens would embrace legalization of marijuana and if anything become better citizens, and The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police agree.
Harper goes on to lament:
...the damage they create, the social upheaval and catastrophe they create,particularly in third world countries...I mean you look now, you look at Latin America, some of the countries south of us, and the damage the drug trade is doing, not just to people's lives as drug users.
Again, sir, the question was concerning the legalization of marijuana in Canada, not Latin America. And do you also think the seven billion citizens who may regularly use marijuana are damaged goods because they are "drug users"? Here is a study that says marijuana is not a gateway drug.
Harper continues:
Look at the violence it's creating in neighborhoods, the destruction of social systems, of families,of governmental institutions,the corruption of police forces. I mean these are terrible, terrible organizations, and while I know that people have different views, I must admit myself sometimes I'm frustrated by how little impact governments have been able to have on the drug trade internationally.
While there is no doubt that marijuana is part of the drug trade, that only strengthens the case for legalization and taxation of the product which is estimated at billions a year in British Columbia alone. Here is an article on how Canada could benefit financially by incorporating the underground economy into it's present model.
Harper again:
But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stopped trying to deal with it, it would somehow turn into a nice wholesome industry. It will never be that.
Considering alcohol, tobacco and gaming have all had their individual problems over the years it must also be said that they have also tried in their own ways to become as good as citizens as multi- conglomerate corporations can be. These institutions have all become important cultural sponsors and as well have contributed to clinics to attack each addiction in it's own right. There is no reason the marijuana industry could not be similar to the alcohol industry in this respect.
And I think we all need to understand that, and we all need to make our kids understand...not just that our kids...hopefully not just understand the damage that drugs can do to them, but they understand as well the wider social disaster they are contributing to, if through the use of their money, fund organizations that produce and deliver elicit narcotics
By the government's own definition cannabis is a controlled substance not a narcotic.
Now if this rambling 750-word diatribe packed with "you know" and "I know" statements, and sprinkled with "the kids" was not enough for you for one day, the Official Leader of the Opposition, the Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, also weighed in on the cannabis controversy. He made comments about pot while making a youth speech on his current taxpayer-sponsored holiday he's dubbed "listening in to the plain folks," that is also his book tour of Canada.
Here was his opinion in words that are hepcat sentiments at best:
If I had to tell you as a parent or as someone who has spent his whole life working with young people, the last darn thing I want you to be doing is smoking marijuana. I want you to be out there digging a well,digging a ditch, getting a job, raising a family...doing stuff, instead of parking your life on the end of a cigarette!
No wonder my colleague Chris Selley at The National Post headlined his piece: "The day Michael Ignatieff lost the youth vote."
Look, I'm just a humble young digital reporter and I know I am not as important as either Harper or Ignatieff, but if you two want to talk about democracy and the will of the people then why not have a referendum on the issue? And if the majority want cannabis legalized, then both politicians are welcome to their personal opinions, but in the end they're supposed to be representatives of the people, not social designers.
If you let the majority rule, and only then, will Canada be a true democracy and not a constitutional monarchy as it is today.
And for the record, both politicians should take note the United States now has 12 states where cannabis is decriminalized. And in the fall, California will have a vote on the docket to legalize and tax the product. Depending who you ask, the current belief is that the vote will succeed.