A decade after former U.S. President Bill Clinton created a storm by
publicly admitting to having once smoked marijuana, similar admissions from
less-prominent political players have been coming more easily.

When leadership candidates in the race to succeed Mike Harris as head of the
Progressive Conservative party and premier of the province were asked last
weekend if they had indulged, for example, three of the five piped up. They
had tried pot, they said, and lived to tell the tale -- or rather the joke.
For that is how they managed to handle the question. Except for Elizabeth
Witmer and Tony Clement: both denied ever having drawn a single puff.

So who's ahead? Ernie Eves is, but it doesn't matter. Since 38 per cent of
adult Canadians have tried marijuana, there's probably not a lot of shame
attaching to the admission. Indeed, those who do 'fess up are just as likely
to be rewarded for being proper hipsters as they are to be punished at the
polls for indulging in an illegal substance.

Beyond making jokes about it, however, none of the candidates would commit
to any other observations about marijuana as an illegal drug and a problem
of substantial proportions. Yet that's what it is to the police throughout
Ontario. Try as they might through busts of ever-expanding value and
proportions, they are failing. Arresting growers has become a regular police
activity, and while it may give detective squads something to do (and
something to crow about afterwards), it clearly hasn't stopped the
cultivation of the weed. Obviously there's a lot of money being made, and
some Ontarians are undoubtedly becoming very rich thanks to the briskness of
the black market trade. Were the truth to be known, it would surprise few
farmers to learn that marijuana has overtaken tobacco in value as a cash
crop.

So what's the joke? The reality is that marijuana profits are not being
counted. They're not being taxed. The substance is uncontrolled and growers
are stealing enormous amounts of electricity. Add to this the cost and
danger of police raids, the court costs and the expense of harbouring
criminals in jails, and somebody should be finding the joke very unfunny.
The marijuana trade is a huge public expense. And not one of the prospective
leaders acknowledged that.

The answer to not having it as a huge public expense is to legalize it. Let
growers be licenced. Let them begin selling it openly. Let fields of the
stuff wave proudly in the summer breezes.

Legitimizing marijuana production would solve two problems. It would be the
death-knell of illegal operations and it would allow the stuff to be taxed
to the hilt. Young Tory followers of Ernie Eves, Chris Stockwell and James
Flaherty wouldn't have to scour the back alleys in search of shadowy sales
folk. They might be able to buy the quality-controlled product from many of
the same people who now sell cigarettes.

Yet none of the candidates seems to have viewed marijuana as anything but
raw material for some clever repartee. That's too bad. For marijuana is not
an unimportant side issue and it's not withering away.



Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: March 19, 2002
Source: Guelph Mercury (CN ON)
Website: http://www.guelphmercury.com/
Contact: editor@guelphmercury.com