|News articles regarding the 2004 Fraser Institute report:
"Marijuana Growth in British Columbia"
|June 9th, 2004
Conservative Think-Tank Says Government Should Cash In on Pot Revenue
Canadian Press - CP
VANCOUVER (CP) - The federal government should decriminalize marijuana and
tax the revenue, says a report released Wednesday by the usually
conservative Fraser Institute.
Conservative estimates show the government stands to reap an estimated $2
billion in potential revenues annually into its coffers, said Steve Easton,
a professor of economics at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the
think-tank. It's not a question of whether Canadians approve or disapprove
of marijuana use, he suggested.
"I think it's like prohibition in the U.S. in that period, in the sense
we've tried to suppress (marijuana use)," said Easton.
"We've not been successful in doing so and all we do is create an industry
that really gives organized crime a chance to get some revenue."
The benefits of legalizing are that organized crime would be shut out and
those harmed by marijuana could get treatment instead of going to jail,
"It seems to me a far better use of our resources is to use those resources
to make it legal, tax it in an appropriate way and, to the extent it causes
certain kinds of social problems, then we can deal with that as part of the
The study estimated there are some 17,500 marijuana grow-ops in British
Columbia, where Easton said only 13 per cent of offenders are actually
charged. His report also found 55 per cent of those convicted receive no
Easton said some 23 per cent of Canadians have admitted to using the drug.
But Paul Shrive, the head of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police,
dismissed the idea of taxing marijuana sales.
He said he sees ethical issues with government "making money off the backs
of addicted people," although he acknowledged it already benefits from
In his 39 years in policing, Shrive said he's never met a person addicted to
"extreme" drugs who didn't start out with pot.
"I don't think it's going to solve any of the (problems on the) social
side," he said.
Prime Minister Paul Martin said last week the Liberals are committed to
carrying out their plan to decriminalize marijuana if re-elected.
The government would have to reintroduce a law to hand out fines - not
criminal sentences - to people caught with 15 grams of pot or less.
The legislation died last month when Parliament was dissolved for the
federal election campaign.
June 9, 2004
Legalize Marijuana, Fraser Institute Advises
$2-Billion Tax Source: Group Says Move Would Seize Control From Criminals
OTTAWA - Marijuana should be legalized and then taxed like any other product, says a study by an economic think-tank.
The Fraser Institute estimates such a move would easily generate more than $2-billion a year in additional tax revenues.
All that would really change is that governments, rather than criminals, would enjoy the spoils, argues the study being released today by the Vancouver-based institute.
The potential tax revenue is based on the study's estimate that in British Columbia alone, the annual marijuana crop, if valued at retail street prices and sold by the cigarette, is worth more than $7-billion.
"Using conservative assumptions about Canadian consumption, this could translate into potential revenues for the government of over $2-billion," the study states.
"In British Columbia -- as in other provinces, notably Quebec and Ontario, it is a significant crop that fuels organized crime."
Study author Stephen Easton, professor of economics at Simon Fraser University and a senior fellow at the institute, estimates there are as many as 17,500 marijuana grow operations in B.C. alone.
Marijuana is widely produced and about one quarter of Canadians admit to having used it, the study says. As such, the broader social question has become not whether to approve or disapprove of production, but rather who should enjoy the spoils.
"If we treat marijuana like any other commodity, we can tax it, regulate it and use the resources the industry generates rather than continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been lost," Dr. Easton said. "It is apparent that we are reliving the experience of alcohol prohibition of the early years of the last century."
In British Columbia, indoor marijuana cultivation and consumption appears to be higher than in the rest of Canada, it notes. The most striking difference is that only 13% of offenders in the province are actually charged while that number climbs to 60% for the rest of Canada.
In addition, the penalties for conviction in B.C. are low, it said. Fifty-five per cent of those convicted receive no jail time.
While police resources are spent destroying nearly 3,000 marijuana grow operations a year in B.C., the consequences are relatively minor for those convicted, it says. The industry is simply too profitable to prevent new people moving into production and old producers from rebuilding.
A modest grow-operation of 100 plants generates $80,000 a year in gross revenues, and with production costs of about $25,000, the potential return on invested money is a high 55%, it says. It currently costs $1.50 to produce a marijuana cigarette, which sells for $8.60.
"Unless we wish to continue the transfer of these billions from this lucrative endeavour to organized crime, the current policy on prohibition should be changed," it says. "Not only would we deprive some very unsavoury groups of a profound source of easy money, but also resources currently spent on marijuana enforcement would be available for other activities."
Two years ago, a Senate report also urged the government to ends its prohibition of the drug and implement a system to regulate its production, distribution and consumption.
A federal bill that would have decriminalized marijuana use, but imposed harsher penalties on growers, died with the calling of the election.
Pubdate: Wed, 09 Jun 2004
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2004 Southam Inc.
Author: Eric Beauchesne, CanWest News Service
Read the full 40 page study
Interview: The Early Edition's Rick Cluff speaks with Stephen Easton.
Interview: B.C. Almanac's Susan McNamee speaks with Stephen Easton, and opens the lines to callers.
Poll: Should the use of marijuana be Legalized?
Cited: Canadian Senate report
|June 09, 2004
Pot legalization report draws fire
Fraser Institute says although it published report,
it is not in favour of legalization
Broadcast News, Global BC
'The policies that we have in place just aren't effective in suppressing the activity,' says SFU economist Stephen Easton. 'It seems to me one reasonable alternative is that of legalization -- treat any social problems directly and openly, and then benefit from the revenue... generated by the marijuana industry.' (Global BC)
VANCOUVER - A report published by a right-wing think tank argues legalizing marijuana would add billions to government coffers, and cut out organized crime.
But the Fraser Institute says it is not in favour of legalizing marijuana even though the report it released Wednesday calls for just such a thing.
A headline on a press release accompanying the report quotes the Fraser Institute as saying the government should legalize pot and tax the revenue.
But in a later statement, the Vancouver-based Institute says the news release was wrong.
It says while the Institute is pleased to publish the report, it does not take positions on such issues and the views of the report's author, Steve Easton, are his own.
The Fraser Institute report compares the problem to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the U.S. during the 1920s.
In his report, Easton says legalizing pot would shut out organized crime and bring the federal government a tax windfall of $2 billion a year. He says the question isn't who approves of smoking pot, but who gets the spoils.
Easton says the benefits of legalizing are that organized crime is shut out, and those damaged by marijuana can get treatment instead of going to jail.
"I think there's no question that marijuana has problems associated with it, but so does alcohol, so does tobacco," says Easton.
"Like both of those kinds of substances, I think it's far better to deal with it openly. We've had some success in reducing the number of people smoking, and that's been through a process of education.
"Why not choose the same tack dealing with marijuana?"
The head of B.C.'s Association of Chiefs of Police quickly came out against the report.
Paul Shrive says he has a problem with the idea of the government "making money off the backs of addicted people."
He notes that every extreme drug user he has dealt with has started out on marijuana.
Shrive also says the marijuana industry couldn't be controlled like liquor, because just about anyone can grow quality pot.
© Broadcast News, Global BC 2004
|June 09, 2004
THE FRASER INSTITUTE
Attention News Editors:
Important Clarification: Marijuana Growth in BC
VANCOUVER, June 9 /CNW/ - A news release for the study, Marijuana Growth
in British Columbia erroneously stated that The Fraser Institute called for
the legalization of marijuana. The Fraser Institute itself does not take
positions on issues.
While The Fraser Institute is pleased to support and publish the
technical research conducted by Professor Stephen Easton, he, like all authors
of the Institute's studies, works independently and the views expressed by
Professor Easton therefore are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those
of the members or Trustees of The Fraser Institute.
For further information: Michael Walker, Executive Director,
The Fraser Institute, Tel. (604) 714-4545, email@example.com
|June 10, 2004
The Lucrative Business of Pot
The Globe and Mail
By Mary Lynn Young
Ask any of the 17,500 marijuana grow ops in British Columbia about revenue,
and according to the results of a new study, the answer would be booming. In
fact, the study, commissioned by the Fraser Institute, estimates that the
underground B.C. industry is worth $7-billion -- the largest in the country.
The report claims that the sector is doing so well -- almost as strong as
the province's forestry industry, which posted $9-billion in revenue for
2004 -- that B.C. should legalize the drug and tax it.
The conservative think tank said it doesn't necessarily endorse the
political conclusions in the report.
But are things really so tough in this officially have-not province that we
need to resort to a major social, political and legal re-engineering of how
the system deals with cannabis?
The issue of legalizing marijuana is much more complex than the report
suggests. First, the report's estimates of the size of the underground
industry are inflated because of the way the calculations were completed and
the fact that they are based on data from a sector not given to filing
quarterly reports. Second, marijuana is a controlled substance, which falls
under federal law. That means the Canadian government would have to change
its laws before anything could happen provincially.
Nevertheless, when added to the state of the provincial economy and
marijuana use in B.C., there is a certain logic to the report's conclusions.
In this respect, by virtue of limited police enforcement, B.C. has de facto
decriminalized marijuana use. For instance, according to figures from
Statistics Canada, only 13 per cent of offenders arrested in B.C. for
marijuana offences are charged compared with 60 per cent for the rest of
As well, the report claims that B.C. has low penalties for conviction of
cultivation offences, with 55 per cent of individuals convicted in Vancouver
receiving no jail time.
Here, the province is implicitly following a trend similar to a number of
European nations and some Australian states that have decriminalized
cannabis. However, the drug is still illegal in those regions and therefore
not traded as a taxable commodity. The Netherlands is the only country where
marijuana products can be legally sold and are subject to indirect taxation.
There are strong arguments to decriminalize the drug, given the fact that
its illegal status is largely a function of poor branding and accidents of
Marijuana use became a criminal offence in Canada in 1923 at the same time
that technological improvements allowed the mass production of another drug,
cigarettes, according to Neil Boyd's well-known book on the history of drug
policy in Canada, titled High Society.
At the time, marijuana was largely denigrated socially and then legally
because it was associated with jazz musicians, madness and promiscuity.
History also offers some lessons about the economic benefit of allowing the
market to regulate morality as opposed to legislation or the criminal
justice system. For instance, by the late 1920s when the provinces repealed
prohibition laws, alcohol became the focal point of a profitable industry in
This shows that at least from an economic point of view, moving to
deregulate or decriminalize certain commodities considered immoral or linked
to immorality, such as alcohol and more recently gambling in B.C., can
create a powerful economic sector that provides financial benefits for the
Social factors and costs make this economic argument more complex. For
instance, critics worry that decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana will
encourage tobacco smoking. And legalization raises issues such as age,
driving and potency restrictions.
So while the report is correct in pointing out that the province is missing
out on a large amount of revenue related to the underground drug economy,
the question becomes whether the public is ready to see marijuana cigarettes
sold at the liquor store.
But from a business perspective, when almost one in four Canadians (not some
criminal underclass) admit to having used marijuana -- whether they
'inhaled' or not -- that's a hefty market for a budding industry.
Mary Lynn Young is an assistant professor at the University of British
Columbia's School of Journalism.
|June 10, 2004
Tax the Stoners
The National Post - Editorial
If you had any lingering doubt that the push to legalize marijuana is no
longer limited to left-wing activists and ageing hippies, a report this week
from the Fraser Institute should erase it. Prepared by Stephen Easton, an
economics professor at Simon Fraser University, the report suggests that
legalizing pot would bring economic benefits without inflicting any social
The institute insists that it does not take formal positions on these sorts
of issues. But the fact that a conservative economist writing for a
conservative think-tank would make an unequivocal case for liberalizing our
drug laws shows just how far the debate has come.
As interesting as the source of the report is what it says. Most
legalization advocates focus on the pointlessness of saddling otherwise
law-abiding Canadians with criminal records or fines for indulging in a
substance less dangerous or addictive than alcohol or tobacco -- an argument
we agree with wholeheartedly. But Mr. Easton makes a different and no less
compelling case: that legalization would allow government -- rather than the
black market -- to enjoy the spoils.
As he put it: "If we treat marijuana like any other commodity, we can tax
it, regulate it and use the resources the industry generates rather than
continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been
lost." By his estimates, the marijuana industry in British Columbia alone --
worth more than $7-billion per year -- would inject at least $2-billion into
Of course, Canada is a long way from legalization. And even
decriminalization has proven a political hot potato, with Paul Martin's
Liberals having stalled on reforms first initiated in 2003 and Stephen
Harper's Conservatives pledging to abandon them entirely. We hope this
report will help convince both men that our marijuana laws are in desperate
need of overhaul.
June 14, 2004
For Sale: B.C. bud: Proposal to legalize and tax pot is pragmatic, but
Smaller government and lower taxes -- these are the sort of positions the
Fraser Institute is known for. But the legalization of marijuana? What have
they been smoking?
Yet, that's what author Stephen Easton advocates in a Fraser study entitled
Marijuana Growth in British Columbia.
Here's his case: marijuana laws are largely ignored by a huge segment of
Canadian society, with 7.5 per cent of Canadians saying they are regular
users and 23 per cent having used marijuana at least once.
Law enforcement is ineffective, in British Columbia in particular, where 55
per cent of those convicted of operating marijuana grow-ops receive no jail
time and, of the 35 per cent who receive fines, the penalty is typically
less than $1,200.
Finally, grow-ops make huge profits: It costs on average $1.50 to produce a
joint that sells for $8.60. With $7.10 in profit on each joint, these
margins are fertile ground for these home-based businesses.
Since Canadians are defying the law anyway and police resources are being
wasted enforcing unenforceable laws, Easton argues, the government should
legalize the product, cut out the producers and middlemen, pocket the $7 per
joint in taxes, and make off with an estimated $2 billion in revenues.
"The broader social question becomes less about whether we approve or
disapprove of local production," writes Easton, "but rather who shall enjoy
Such pragmatism has a fatal flaw.
Using such logic, if surveys showed that 23 per cent of the public had
shoplifted at some point in their lives, even though conviction and jail
time for these crimes remains low, theft should be legalized -- clearly
Similarly, drug pushers should not be given a free pass. Although this
newspaper supports decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of
marijuana, legalization is a different game. The fear of dealing with
criminals in the black market, for example, may be keeping a segment of
society from trying or using narcotics, which should be the objective.
Easton argues legalizing would at least remove organized crime from the
production and trafficking of marijuana. But it won't reduce the number of
mobsters in the country -- they'll just switch to peddling other drugs.
Unless the government is willing to legalize all drugs, the effect on
organized crime would be minute.
It is distasteful for the government to profit off the vices and weaknesses
of its citizenry; this is no less true in the sale of tobacco, alcohol or
VLT games than in the sale of marijuana. It creates a perverse incentive:
Although the taxes are punitive and intended to dissuade use, it's in the
government's interest to ensure people remain hooked.
Adding marijuana to the mix would only compound the problem.
This study at least affirms the notion that government ought to use its
power to punish sinful behaviour. If that's the case, we prefer the existing
legal framework for dealing with drug pushers, and maintaining the social
stigma that attends it.
Pubdate: Monday June 14, 2004
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
|June 14, 2004
Drug war failing
Burnaby Now (BC)
We've had a few days to get over the shock of the neo-conservative Fraser Institute issuing a study calling for the legalization of marijuana and, now that the smoke has cleared, a few things stand out:
Anybody who thinks we just need tougher penalties to deter organized criminals from making millions through lucrative pot farms should ask themselves where we'd get the money to hire enough police officers and judges to enforce such penalties.
Our biggest trading partner, the United States, has threatened a border crackdown if we legalize pot. That would create havoc for Canadian businesses and individuals and yet, we are a sovereign country that often takes differing stances on issues than our southern neighbour.
Untold police resources in B.C. are wasted each year busting about 3,000 grow ops - out of an estimated 17,500. Those resources could be put to better use fighting violent, or even property crime.
The argument that if pot is legalized there would be a whole fleet of drivers under the influence doesn't hold water. Chances are, people who want to smoke weed are already doing so. We hope most aren't toking and driving, but if pot were legalized, police resources could be shifted from busting grow ops to cracking down on all bad drivers - stoned, drunk or just plain aggressive.
When a neo-conservative think tank issues a report calling for the legalization of marijuana, how many people out there still think the war on drugs is working?
|June 14, 2004
Police chief says pot study 'unrealistic'
Coquitlam Now (BC)
A recommendation by a Fraser Institute study to legalize the marijuana industry is unrealistic, says Port Moody Police Chief Const. Paul Shrive.
"Marijuana in B.C. is like potatoes in P.E.I. - everybody can grow them," Shrive said.
"So what system could possibly come into place, when people could have their own marijuana patch? As they're harvesting, they're going to say, 'Oh yes, here's the portion that I owe the government.'"
The study, Marijuana Growth in British Columbia, released Wednesday by the Fraser Institute, was written by Stephen Easton, a Simon Fraser University economics professor.
Comparing it to the prohibition of alcohol, Easton argues that the prohibition of marijuana is unsustainable in the long term.
He points to the proliferation of grow operations, the availability of technology to produce marijuana and the level of enforcement.
The multi-billion dollar industry should be legalized and taxed, Easton says, something that could possibly generate more than $2 billion in revenue.
"Alcohol prohibition in the U.S. expanded organized crime in North America," Easton states in his conclusion.
"Removing alcohol prohibition generated many problems, but none like those afflicting society in the days of Al Capone and his ilk. Removing the prohibition on marijuana production would permit society to replace today's gift of revenue to organized crime with (at the very least) an additional source of revenue for government coffers."
But Shrive described the comparisons between prohibition of alcohol and marijuana as inconsistent.
"These people continue to compare prohibition on marijuana to the same as the prohibition days on alcohol, and it just makes me crazy, because alcohol was at the top of its game - that's as high as you went," Shrive said.
"You didn't go from alcohol to now the next worst thing, where with marijuana, we see traditional organized crime already shifting their emphasis from marijuana to methamphetamine labs."
Instead of legalization, Shrive called for tougher consequences for grow operators and improved proceeds of crime laws.
Legalizing marijuana, Shrive said, would also send the wrong message to youth.
"This whole approach that 'We've lost the battle, so let's get in on the good times and squeeze organized crime out, and we'll get the money instead of them,' - I just don't want to belly up to that bar," Shrive said.
"It has no appeal to me whatsoever."
|June 14, 2004
Regulation a better pot option
Chilliwack Times (BC)
Although the Fraser Institute comes up with some biased data at times to back up its mandate, this week's study outlining why Canadian governments should make marijuana legal and reap the billions of dollars realized in taxes simply makes economic sense.
Certainly you could listen to the wild claims by some who still believe marijuana to be evil incarnate, but you could also park your car and buy a horse and buggy.
Several recent reports, including Senate and Parliamentary reports in recent years, note that more than a million Canadian adults regularly indulge in a relaxing toke.
Again and again, medical and other experts in Canada and in the United States, where pot laws vary wildly, point out that more people consume alcohol and tobacco and both of those present greater health threats.
The study's author Stephen Easton says that, as with alcohol prohibition, it will be close to impossible to suppress cannabis use-the market is there and it's steady.
Some argue that legalizing weed would not deter organized crime and would invoke the wrath of the Americans, yet Dutch experience shows that neither Holland nor Europe have collapsed under a giant cloud of smoke.
Conservatives, who normally applaud greater individual freedoms and less government intervention, paradoxically promote a troubling hard line that increasingly erodes individual rights, and encourages citizens to tattle on each other. Now local governments are imposing bylaws in an area where they don't have jurisdiction, and which will cost the taxpayer, yet again.
It seems the harder we try to crush marijuana culture, the stronger it springs back and the deeper its roots go into a black market.
Easton said alcohol prohibition served only to expand organized crime in North America. While the end of prohibition generated some problems, they were nothing compared to those afflicted on society during the days of Al Capone, he said. Hasn't history repeated itself?
With so many voices coming from diverse sectors of our society, our leaders have to listen and start to plan for a Canada where cannabis is legal, safe and regulated. While Easton's estimates of B.C.'s pot industry at $7 billion seems a little rich, there's no doubt a regulated industry would be a better option to what we have today.
|June 17, 2004
Legalize it - for the economy's sake
Stephen T. Easton (*author of this Fraser Institure report)
There is very little evidence that Canada's present prohibition on production and consumption of marijuana is successful in making it unavailable. If you have any doubt, ask a child whether he or she knows someone in school from whom they could get some. Nineteen percent of children between the ages of 12 and 15, and 23% of all Canadians over the age of 15 have tried it (and presumably inhaled), and nearly two million are currently using. Those numbers are likely to increase, as older demographics make up the bulk of non-users. Baby Boomers are -- or were -- in the vanguard of users, and younger people use more frequently than older folks.
Marijuana cultivation can be found across Canada, and British Columbia has been a particular hub. To give some idea of the scale of operations, 2,800 B.C. grow-operations were "busted" in 2000 -- and it's safe to say that even the most effective police force would only able to find and destroy a fraction of the total number.
Based on a little economic theory and modest data, I estimate there are about 17,000 marijuana grow operations currently in B.C. Since the average busted operation had 180 plants, and each plant yields about 33 grams of usable marijuana, the province's commercial production is probably in the range of 400,000 kilograms -- and that's using the conservative assumption that there are four crops each year.
That's a lot of product, and it's worth a lot of money -- though how much, exactly, depends partly on the units in which the crop is measured. A kilogram of marijuana may sell for as much as $5,000 wholesale, meaning the value of the B.C. crop is worth something like $2-billion at the wholesale level. Naturally, retail would sell for much more. Marijuana sold at $15 per gram makes a kilogram worth $15,000, which would put the total crop value closer to $6-billion.
Considering that B.C.'s gross domestic product was roughly $130-billion in 2000, these numbers tell us that sales of marijuana amount to somewhere between 1.5% and 4.6% relative to the province's GDP. And since British Columbians are likely to consume only about 30,000 kilograms themselves, the rest is destined for the rest of Canada or abroad. That we would continue to crack down on such massive interprovincial and international trade, rather than capitalizing upon its potential to spur economic development, seems highly counterproductive.
Beyond the economic consequences, marijuana prohibition brings other costs. Resources are used not only finding grow-ops, but also prosecuting and penalizing offenders. In 2001, 50,000 Canadians were charged with possession, 11,000 with trafficking and 9,000 with cultivation.
Legalizing marijuana would carry the risk of increased consumption, since prices would likely fall. But that could be countered by taxing it at a rate that kept the current retail price more or less intact. To the extent that consumers are paying it now, there is no reason to believe that they would not be willing to pay it then.
Such a policy would benefit government enormously. An estimate of the retail price of a marijuana cigarette puts it at about $8.50, while the cost of production is $1.50. This would imply a tax rate close to $7 per cigarette. If domestic consumption is in the range of 160,000 kilograms and a cigarette is about half a gram, then tax revenue would total roughly $2-billion.
It would also put a serious dent in crime. At present, the difference between production costs and the final sales price goes to distribution costs and profit. In many cases, that means money in the hands of organized crime, often providing base funding for unsavoury activities much the same way that alcohol prohibition helped build gangster empires earlier last century. Were marijuana legal, these funds would no longer be available for mob use.
There is, of course, the question of how legalization would affect our relationship with our neighbours. If the United States were to add to trade frictions by requiring special inspections and the like, the economic damage would outweigh any benefit from legalization -- and sensible policy must recognize this. But ironically, legalization and regulation on this side of the border might do more to reduce the flow of marijuana to the United States than any policies under the status quo. If legal producers risked losing their licences for profitable enterprise through illegal sales, most likely wouldn't take the chance.
As more and more Canadians belong to generations for whom marijuana is not an unknown commodity, our attitudes and laws should more faithfully reflect our experiences. Marijuana consumption is widespread in Canada (and has been for some time), and production gives every indication of being nearly as prevalent. Consequently, the broader social question becomes not whether we approve or disapprove of local production, but rather who shall enjoy the spoils. If we treat it like any other commodity we can tax it, regulate it, and use the resources the industry generates rather than continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been lost.
Stephen T. Easton is a professor of economics at Simon Fraser University and author of Marijuana Growth in B.C., published by The Fraser Institute.
June 20, 2004
Should Pot be Legal?
This writer agrees with a Fraser Institute report calling for marijuana to
be legalized and taxed
For the Calgary Herald
There's an old saying that some of what a conservative believes today was
fought for by liberals 20 years ago. That could explain a report released
June 9 by the Fraser Institute. The solidly conservative think-tank declared
that marijuana should be legalized and taxed by the federal government. The
report's conservative estimate is that the government could realize $2
billion in new revenue.
Not surprisingly, police associations dismissed the report. Paul Shrive, the
head of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, argued that taxing
marijuana would see the government making money off those who were
addicted -- forgetting perhaps about the windfall alcohol and tobacco
provide provincial and federal coffers. Shrive also stated that in his years
of policing he'd never seen someone who was addicted to "extreme" drugs who
didn't start out with marijuana.
At the risk of being facetious, milk is probably the ultimate gateway drug.
Correlation does not equal causation.
Police officers are understandably leery about legalization, citing a lack
of proper training and tools to deal with a liberalizing of drug laws, but
it's a move whose time has come. Although police are justifiably concerned
about an increased workload and the fact that liberalization could aid
criminal elements, the war on marijuana is a giant drain on resources that
has remarkably few successes to show for it.
About $400 million a year is spent on arresting, prosecuting and jailing
drug criminals in Canada, an investment that has resulted in more than
600,000 Canadians with a criminal record for marijuana possession. According
to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2,000 Canadians go to jail every
year for marijuana possession, at a cost to the taxpayer of $150 a day to
house each of them. If the intent of the war on marijuana is to dissuade
people from using it, it's a failure, as well. In a recent Toronto study, 92
per cent of those found guilty of possession were still using the drug a
The prohibition against marijuana is as much a moral crusade as it is a
health campaign. That will cause many to see any liberalization as a loss
for decent society. It's really about realizing that millions of adult
Canadians want to use marijuana and are willing to break the law to do so.
We can keep punishing them and branding them for life or we can admit that
society is changing and that marijuana isn't the danger that its critics
have claimed it is. Marijuana may cause some health problems with chronic
use. But the greater danger is fighting a war against Canadians and any
government that crusades against its own citizens eventually loses.
A look at the raw numbers certainly proves that. As Steve Easton pointed out
in his report, there are 17,500 marijuana grows in British Columbia alone.
Only about 13 per cent of offenders in that province are actually charged --
the number rises to 60 per cent when the rest of Canada is included -- and
of those, 55 per cent receive no jail time. On the consumption side, 23 per
cent of Canadians have admitted to using marijuana some time, while 7.5 per
cent are using it currently, or about 1.87 million people.
Of course, fiscal conservatives should be wary about giving government yet
another revenue stream, given that alcohol and tobacco taxes haven't exactly
stopped any level of government from running deficits. That shouldn't stop
us, however, from realizing we are behind the times on this issue. The war
on marijuana has been a drain on society that has only resulted in wholesale
flouting of the law at the cost of billions of dollars. Legalizing marijuana
and taxing it not only turns the flow of money the other way, it recognizes
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
June 20, 2004
Legal pot: the view on the street
Q. Do you think marijuana should be legalized and taxed?
Dean Ropchan, 24, musician.
"Definitely. I don't think anyone who smokes marijuana should be a criminal.
I don't believe in decriminalization. I think legalization is a way to
control a substance than push a substance into the alleys."
Sarah Fulton, 21, student.
"I think it is a good idea, but obviously there a lot of things to do first
like in terms of where would they sell it and to whom and would you need a
Peter Bright, 37, project manager.
"I think they should capture the revenues coming out of B.C. It is a couple
billion dollar industry, so if you can make half a billion, why not?"
Dan Green, 40, commercial property manager.
"I think it is a great idea. It seems to work OK in Europe and I think it
works to prevent crime, to prevent people from going to stronger drugs; tax
it -- I think that is a great idea."
Leslie Stark, 37, physician from Denver, Colo.
"I think it is a reasonable idea and I really think the criminalization of
it is sort of a waste of resources in terms of law enforcement, etc."
Cynthia Moore, 43, investment broker.
"I don't think people who are casual users should necessarily have a
criminal record, but I am not really in favour of complete legalization
either because I don't use drugs, but I have sympathy for those who need it
for medical reasons."
Jeremy Albright, 29, Calgary Board of Education employee.
"I just don't think marijuana should be legalized; that's the bottom line.
It is a narcotic and I don't approve of any drug use in any shape or form."
Lois Bruiners, 71, retired.
"If it is illegal already, I am against it, but I don't know if it would be
better if it was legalized, except maybe for medical purposes, but I think
it has gotten out of hand."
Rick Kowalchuk, 48, systems analyst.
"I would rather not see it done. I think it sends the wrong message and I
think it's still a dangerous drug and it should be kept illegal."
Patrick Vezina, 27, artist's assistant.
"I am stuck 50/50 on it. It's another vice that society can use and make
money off of people's weaknesses, but at the same time it is a very good
drug, helping people who are sick with chronic disease and it is a good form
of pain relief."
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