It was 8 a.m., but in the dim light of Toronto underground parking, it
could have been the middle of the day or night. Those of us who lived in
that massive complex in Cabbagetown -- yuppies among the remnants of a
distressed district of shabby boarding houses and derelict Victorians --
always felt slightly uncomfortable hanging around. Standing still meant
attracting drunks and panhandlers. Years later, the district would be
gentrified and the local liquor store would stock Merlot rather than $1.05
Old Sailor.

Even then, there were two classes of people in the neighbourhood --
middle-class white folks who were protected by the police and the rest, who
were harassed by them. Guess who was smoking the marijuana? Not the
homeless or the drunkards. And, I guess I have to admit, not me. Not for
lack of desire, but for the simple logistics: The smell of pot might
permeate the hallways of the apartment building, and Rochdale College was
reportedly drug central. For people my age who missed the drug generation
by a few years, the only illicit drug we knew was underage drinking.

It was possible, even at the height of the '60s, never to have seen
marijuana, let alone try it. I would subsequently address that gap in my
education, but, on the morning in question, I was standing uneasily in the
half-light by my car, waiting to drive a friend to work. It was my Monday
as the car-pool and he was late.

I waited. And waited. By 8:45, I left.

Later, I discovered why my colleague had not appeared. The night before he
had been arrested, charged with trafficking and smuggling a carload of pot
into Canada stuffed in lamps. He was convicted and sentenced to the minimum
of seven years.

The point of the story is that he did not fit anyone's stereotype of a drug
dealer -- then or now. Under normal circumstances, he would never have been
bothered by the police, given his middle-class profile. He was caught
because of a tip from an angry co-conspirator. And even today, were
marijuana decriminalized, he would still have done time for importation and
for dealing.

Moving toward the decriminalization of soft drugs such as marijuana is a
logical step for Canada, as it is for England. There are plenty of
examples: Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland have decriminalized
the private use and possession of marijuana. The Netherlands, the most
liberal of the drug-approving countries, has not ceased to function because
marijuana is readily available.

Standing in our way, though, is the expensive, time-consuming and
essentially silly American war on drugs. No matter how racist this
operation is, regardless of the lives it has destroyed on both sides, it
soldiers on because it is a billion-dollar industry -- on both sides of the
law. The United States would be seriously perturbed should Canada relax its
drug laws and the pressure, both diplomatic and political, is on.

That being said, Canada is a sovereign nation whose lawmakers no longer see
the logic in zero tolerance. They'd be hard-pressed to find someone between
25 and 55 who hasn't tried recreational drugs. The list of notables
reportedly includes Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Industry Minister
Allan Rock and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.

None of this is to suggest addiction isn't a problem, but those who are
addicted to drugs aren't made that way by laws governing access. And it
hasn't escaped anyone's notice the most dangerous drug in the country --
liquor -- is readily available. In Alberta or Quebec, we can go to a corner
store, although unlike Quebec, where the depanneur will sell you milk and
cigarettes with the wine, in Alberta the private liquor stores don't sell
non-related products.

The comparison between liquor and drugs is cultural, not affective. Booze
is as addictive as any drug, is abused with frequency and causes heartaches
and pain to those who are hooked and families who watch their
disintegration. The difference is we don't jail someone for buying a mickey
of rye. Canadians with liquor in their houses don't get a criminal record.

Let the U.S. police its own borders, and let the government of Canada make
its own decisions, including decriminalizing marijuana.

Pubdate: Wed, 24 Jul 2002
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 Calgary Herald
Author: Catherine Ford