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 REASONABLE DOUBT - by Alan Young

The Toronto Star
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Marijuana mountain built out of molehill
[photos added]

Reasonable Doubt - by Alan Young

Having been deeply involved in the fight to change our marijuana laws, I feel some discomfort in again writing about the debate. But the government continues to weave a web of deception.

We find ourselves in a political twilight zone on the marijuana issue. I do not believe this government sincerely wishes to change the law but it is unsure how to placate millions of users and voters. The best way to forestall change in a democracy is to confuse the masses. So for the past two years this government has promoted the concept of decriminalization by repeatedly introducing legislation that pleases neither activist nor prohibitionist. To further confuse matters, there has been a corresponding increase in "reefer madness" misinformation, much of it coming from the very proponents of the decriminalization bill.

Martin Cauchon - former Justice Minister, during questioning by the House of Commons Committee on Illegal Drugs regarding the proposed "decriminalization" bill. November 2003.

maple leaf joint fist

"We're not decriminalizing marijuana, to be technical, it will remain a criminal offense. What we are putting in place are alternative penalties, in using the Contraventions Act.

I admit that using "decrim" at the beginning was not a good start, but over the past few months we have been quite clear about what we're doing."

 

I have been on many TV programs debating members of parliament and police officers who spin the tired mythology of addiction, mental illness, failing health and the new and improved potent pot. These spinners may rely upon a touching anecdote knowing that it is bad television if I try to counter these misleading stories with a dull recitation of data and the nuances of statistical methodology. The government is able to maintain a low level of fear by relying upon a few true stories and the occasional fictional narrative. In the process, it obscures the fact that marijuana has been used by hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years with no discernable impact on morbidity, mortality or moral decay.

The debate over marijuana law reform exposes the treachery of state control of information. Within a democracy, one of the greatest threats to freedom is the control of information. Voting, making decisions, supporting initiatives only make sense if the choice is grounded in accurate and complete information. The invasion of Iraq seemed to have some modest justification when powerful people in control of information led us to believe Saddam had his finger on the chemical bomb button. Now we know Saddam's fingers posed no risk but it is hard for political leaders to admit defeat and disgrace. Governments can make bad decisions with the stroke of a pen but undoing the mistake is like moving a mountain.

When pot use was deemed criminal in 1923, there was no rationale for the prohibition other than official misinformation. Eighty-one years later, we now know that millions of Canadians smoke pot. We also know the moderate use of marijuana poses little risk to the user. Clearly, with millions of Canadians taking a puff here or there, some doing so for many decades, we would expect to find epidemiological evidence confirming the health risks detected in rats or some hard evidence that pot smokers are contributing significantly to carnage on the roads. Scientists keep looking but the evidence is not forthcoming. This is why most Canadians do not support the criminalization of pot use and why royal commission after royal commission has recommended reform of the law.

Yet I still see on the front page of some papers glossy photos of cops decked out in chemical warfare space-suits carrying bushy pot plants out of grow-ops. It turns out the weapons of mass destruction were not in Baghdad but were scattered all over the streets of Greater Toronto. This melodramatic photo-op thoroughly confuses the issue. People who have neither the time nor the inclination to research the true state of affairs would undoubtedly believe that marijuana must be highly toxic and dangerous if state officials have to don protective gear to uproot a plant.

The media can become a pawn in a government's campaign of misinformation. The grow-op hysteria has become good copy — almost biblical — with the plagues of fire, fungus and mould. Of course, every moral panic is built on one or two real tragedies. Homes have burnt down due to faulty wiring. Homes have been overrun by mould. The occasional tragedy does not constitute an epidemic, and one would expect an epidemic when the looming presence of criminal law forces growers into an unregulated black market where there is little incentive to comply with safety code standards.

Growing marijuana for personal use is safe if done correctly. Similarly, smoking marijuana is safe for the majority of people. Of course, some people have had bad experiences or suffered personal hardship from smoking pot. The plant is not everyone's cup of tea, but neither is the vine. The problem is that state officials will build a mountain out of a molehill to suit their devious purposes. Small problems become magnified into large-scale, social problems to convince an unknowing public that an expansion in state power is needed to fight the growing menace. Every expansion in state power results in a corresponding diminution of individual rights. That's the yin-yang of politics.

In a dictatorship, people are forced to give up rights at gunpoint. In a democracy, people are fooled into giving up rights by the creation of unfounded moral panics. Whether the panic is pit bulls, satanic cults or Quebec separatists, state officials are adept at manipulating and controlling information. Even if you believe smoking marijuana is a monumental waste of time, you should be alarmed whenever a government deliberately distorts the truth. What else might it be lying about?

Alan Young is a law professor, criminal lawyer and author of Justice Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers & Lawyers (Key Porter).


Another example of police fear-mongering...

 

 

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Telling it like it is...


Derek Lee
Liberal MP

"Unfortunately we all seem to have a pension for referring to this proposed package as the "decriminalization of marijuana".

That's a very small piece of this particular package. It's such a small piece we could probably do without it."




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