Print Edition: November 14, 2012
British Columbia should legalize recreational marijuana.
That’s right. MJ. Weed. Reefer. BC bud. Marijuana cigarettes. Doobies.
Who ever thought that some U.S. states would pursue a more progressive substance policy than us?
Colorado and Washington recently voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Concerns about tightened U.S. border security and the detrimental impact on trade if British Columbia liberalized its pot laws were once a major obstacle to similar measures north of the 49th parallel. But these fears can now be put aside considering the incoming Washington legislation.
So why should marijuana be legalized in BC?
First, I need to admit something: I don’t smoke pot. I know, I know. Canadian university student, English major, into music, yada yada yada. But it’s not my thing. However, that doesn’t mean that I think that other adults across this province shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the relaxing effects of a natural substance.
There are a number of problems with the way marijuana prohibition works in BC. For all the hand-wringing about the morality of smoking pot, I think it should be pointed out that, by and large, choosing to smoke is a decision that only affects the person who’s using – and the number of McDonald’s chicken nuggets sold at three in the morning. Unlike hard drugs, moderate marijuana use yields relatively few harmful effects. Most of these are more similar to that of cigarettes or cigars.
If we are willing to trust adults enough to make their own choices about substances such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and refined sugars (all of which can be harmful), certainly marijuana would also fall into this category. BC needs to stop treating its citizens like children. It is not the responsibility or the right of the government to legislate personal morality.
Look, I get it. People are afraid that as soon as the government loosens up on these laws, everybody and their dog will be lighting up joints, tie-dying their shirts and renting summer cottages on the Sunshine Coast. But do you honestly think that whether or not marijuana is legal is going to make a difference in whether British Columbians use it or not?
Legalizing pot would dramatically reduce gang violence in the Lower Mainland by cutting off the profitability of their primary source of income. The Centre of Addictions Research of BC reports that approximately 680,000 British Columbians use marijuana each year and another 12,000 use other illicit substances. This makes marijuana the most sought after substance on the black market. These gangs are motivated by profitability and a move such as this would discourage this sort of activity from the source. Most of the people I know who enjoy marijuana are otherwise law-abiding citizens who would greatly appreciate the opportunity to obtain weed through legitimate channels.
Some argue that these gangs will turn to other sources for income, including more violent crimes and extortion. I will admit, legalizing would likely result in a potentially difficult period of transition, but one that would result in a safer province in the long run. No other criminal activity is so attractive to gang organization than the dealing of illegal goods through a businesslike structure. Other criminal activities are much less profitable, requiring more work for a smaller payday. These crimes are also easier for police to investigate and make arrests for, making them riskier for criminals to attempt.
If marijuana is legalized, regulated and taxed, it will not only help further police resources in improving public safety, but greatly increase revenue at the provincial level, which could be invested in schools, hospitals, infrastructure and all kinds of things that would greatly improve quality of life in BC. Especially considering the economic hardship this province has been valiantly trying to stave off over the past few years, additional revenue and tax-eligible jobs in a new industry would be a welcome if not necessary move.
The Washington law is set to come into place in the next year and, for the first time, a sitting BC MLA has announced his support. The political climate is right for a strong push for legalization. With a provincial election just around the corner, expect to see one or both major parties announce a platform that includes marijuana legalization as one of its main items. And we should support such a policy.
It’s not only the clear choice for public safety and the economy, but for responsibility and trust in the public. It’s time to grow up.