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Reefer madness

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It's poetic that police discovered $30 million worth of marijuana plants in
a former Molson brewery complex in Barrie, Ont., this week. In the national
imagination, beer and marijuana are linked. Both are recreational drugs.
Both are smelly. Both hold the potential for abuse. Neither is the child of

Toronto lawyer and marijuana advocate Alan Young suggested the bust was part
of a plot to convince Paul Martin's government to shy away from Jean
Chretien's crusade for decriminalization. Plot isn't the right word, but
Young is on to something.

This week's arrests and seizures hurt advocates of decriminalization because
it exposes the flaws in their reasoning.

Under decriminalization, pot will remain illegal; growing and dealing
marijuana will remain a serious criminal offense. Possessing up to
approximately half an ounce for your own consumption will get you a fine but
not a criminal record. Feeling safe from arrest, the university students,
doctors, plumbers and grandparents who smoke marijuana may smoke a fraction
more after decriminalization, which only means increased profits for the
organized crime syndicates who grow and distribute pot.

Most Canadians accept that marijuana is different from crack cocaine,
crystal meth and heroin. Most Canadians agree that smoking a joint is no
more a criminal act than running off the golf course to pee on a birch. The
country needs a new marijuana policy, but we shouldn't allow thieves and
murderers to get rich off our leaders' political cowardice.

Decriminalization is a weak and perilous compromise. The only logical answer
to the question of marijuana is legalization and regulation.

In newspapers across the country and on CBC Radio this week, police officers
praised the grow operation in Barrie for its sophistication. "To use a
retail term, this was what you would call a big-box approach," said Wayne
Frechette, the chief of police in Barrie.

Other officials joked about what authorities would do with all the seized
plants. They wouldn't be able to burn them because all of Huronia would
begin to giggle, act slightly paranoid and end up with the munchies. Media
outlets had a barrel of laughs with punny headlines and feature stories. The
front page of The Globe and Mail read "Big marijuana factory was one strange

Do we think cocaine is funny? Do newspaper editors think up wacky headlines
for embezzlement, shoplifting, assault and rape? Do we use retail terms for
stolen nuclear material? Does Chretien tell the press he's going to punch
Aline in the head when he retires? We don't need any more polls to tell us
that the average Canadian is comfortable with marijuana. If university
students, doctors, plumbers and grandparents are getting high in their
homes, it's none of the government's business.

But it should be. The big-box grow operation in Barrie shouldn't be
dismantled. It should be nationalized and its products should be taxed.

On Tuesday, Martin met with George W. Bush in Monterrey, Mexico. The war on
drugs is dear to President Bush, as it is to the U.S. Congress. Social
conservatives, who make up a large percentage of active Republicans, feel
that marijuana is one of Satan's many children. The U.S. Ambassador to
Canada, Paul Cellucci, has said there will be trade repercussions if Canada
decriminalizes marijuana. Borders will be tighter. Body probes will be

This is a legitimate concern for our new prime minister. If we further
empower the mobs and gangs who control the marijuana trade in Canada, there
is a good chance they will enhance their distribution networks into the
United States. However, if we buy in and regulate the marijuana industry in
Canada, we remove a significant chunk of the syndicates' revenue and,
potentially, improve our ability to track and monitor Canadian crops. With
legalization, Canada wouldn't be exporting any more marijuana into the
States than it already does.

The Canadian government and police forces across the country spend too much
money and energy trying to disrupt the marijuana trade. Since it's run by
gangsters who tend to arm themselves, police officers are needlessly putting
themselves in danger every time they enter a grow operation, whether it's in
a suburban bungalow or an old brewery.

As we've learned from the Americans, the war on pot is futile. We accept
marijuana so fully that the Cheech and Chong movies aren't funny anymore.

Eventually, when we're ready, we can sell the old beer vats from the Barrie
brewery to some unarmed and reasonable entrepreneurs. We can spend a
significant amount of the marijuana tax to convince kids, who are smoking it
anyway, not to bother.

Pubdate: Saturday January 17, 2004
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Contact: letters@thejournal.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/edmonton/edmontonjournal/
Author: Todd Babiak