In the last issue of The Cascade I was intrigued by the position offered by your editorial on the topic of the legalization of marijuana, but saddened by the stark lack of substantial arguments or facts on which the article was based. Very little seemed to be substantiated beyond the somewhat commonly held view that we shouldn’t mess with what other people want to do in the privacy of their homes. Heading into my final semester as a UFV Criminology student, I feel obligated to respond to some of the points raised, since the view seems to be that the “U.S. states [are pursuing] a more progressive substance policy” which is a rather strong statement.
First, a couple of minor points; the article mentions fears of trade and US border security which “can now be put aside considering the incoming Washington legislation.” Unfortunately, this statement is premature. While the residents of Washington State may have voted to start down this path, federal law trumps state law. Period. The CBP is a federal organization, and their mandate comes from Washington D.C., not Washington State. The view of many criminologists is that this law will be overturned as soon as they try to write the statute, for a variety of reasons involving the intricacies of federal and state law in the US which I won’t bore you with in this letter.
Secondly, it is stated that in comparison with “hard drugs” moderate marijuana use “yields relatively few harmful effects.” While this statement was much more accurate in the 1970’s, unfortunately the truth is now far from it. Back then the THC content was around seven percent; by comparison today average levels are around 25% for “reasonable quality” and often closer to 31%. The difference this makes is two-fold. First, it is starting to become classified and treated as an addictive drug just like cocaine, alcohol, crack, and heroin (to name a few). Rehab centers in Britain are seeing much higher success rates using this method for individuals who want to kick the “habit”. Studies coming out just now in Britain are finding that “moderate use” of marijuana between the ages of 17-30 permanently lower IQ levels to a noticeable and measurable degree. In other words, it’s not the “harmless high” that many would like to call it (and that’s without even mentioning the much higher risk of schizophrenia).
When reading your editorial I was waiting for the gang violence argument to come up, and I wasn’t disappointed. You make the bold statement (as many have made before you) that “legalizing pot would dramatically reduce gang violence by cutting off the profitability of their primary source of income.” before going into more detail on just how much gangs depend on the illegality of pot to survive. At that point the article starts to lose its coherence as you begin to draw comparisons and make statements about gangs migrating to crimes which are less lucrative and easier for the police to monitor. The logic is sketchy at best, and I doubt many criminologists would agree; but I digress. Instead, to address the main point it is unfortunately just not true. To clarify that statement: there is no evidence that legalizing marijuana would take away the gangs income, and the balance of statistics we have suggests otherwise.
Total marijuana production is around 1.5 million pounds. The domestic market for marijuana use in BC is only 185,000 pounds. In other words, only 12 percent of marijuana stays in the province. 1.3 million pounds is exported around the world. The value of just the exported marijuana is estimated conservatively at around $2.7 billion (that’s a “b”). There is estimated to be at least 36 shipments to the U.S. per day. Legalizing marijuana in BC won’t kill the black market and the gangs’ source of income, at best it would only impact 12% of their market.
Secondly, legalization won’t provide the windfall that is mentioned in the article to be used to “greatly improve the quality of life in BC” by investing in “schools, hospitals, infrastructure, [etc]”. First of all, as mentioned previously, the primary BC market is around the world which will remain a black market because of the rest of the world’s view on marijuana which isn’t likely to change any time soon. In other words, the lion’s share of the market isn’t going to be taxable any time soon. Even the domestic market isn’t going to add much. Is it reasonable to assume that individuals using marijuana now are going to all of a sudden start paying a much higher price from a government-approved source to account for the taxes, when we already have an underground production and distribution system which will remain tax-free? People vote with their wallets more than anything else.
For the sake of space, I must leave my response as it is for now. However, as food for thought, an idea that has been passed around some criminology circles in response to killing the gang sources of income regarding illicit drugs is much more radical than just legalization. In order to kill the domestic market (which as pointed out is only part of the problem), we would have to legalize all drugs (comprehensively cover the sources-heroin and cocaine have a large market here) and supply for free. InSite with a free supply of whatever the user would like. The argument can be made that this, and nothing less, would kill the gangs’ source of domestic income. Anything less, and there is still a pie to be fought over.
In conclusion, your editorial mentions few harmful effects, cutting off the primary source of income for gangs, and improving public safety and society with tax revenue. If permanent IQ lowering and high schizophrenia risk is not harmful, you’d be right. If 12 percent can be considered the “primary” share, we’ll definitely kill the gangs’ income. And if people have infinitely more moral substance than history has shown, we may just make a little from taxing the tiny portion of the population who would pay. Unfortunately, the balance of statistics, evidence, and experience seems to suggest otherwise on all accounts.
4th year Criminology Student