National Column: We should celebrate the end of pot’s prohibition

by Edward Keenan

Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Or don’t, it’s up to you – officially and legally as of yesterday.

For the first time since 1923, marijuana possession and use is legal in Canada.

That’s an occasion to celebrate. And not just if you’re a cannabis user, or have been looking forward to becoming one. Not just if you’re a headline writer with a long list of dopey puns waiting for action. Not just if you’re one of the millions of former police officials and regular citizens looking to get into the likely lucrative industry.

It should be a reason for all of us to celebrate because it marks the end of a largely pointless prohibition that has been both ineffective and destructive.

I mean, on the spectrum of destructive drugs, marijuana has obviously ranked well behind alcohol – and few and far between are those who think returning to prohibition of cocktails and beer would somehow improve society.

Despite long-ago “Reefer Madness” scaremongering, the relative innocuousness of cannabis use has been well known, and widely known, for a long time.

Prohibition didn’t seem to curb its use much, either. You’ve long been able to walk down the street or through a park in this city and smell the aroma. It’s been decades since I was in high school and realized not just that many of my friends smoked pot, but that their parents did as well. With the increasingly common use of cannabis for treatment of pain and other conditions, we’ve got a generation of grandparents who’ve been using it, too.

Statistics Canada reported earlier this year an estimated 4.9 million Canadians aged 18 to 64 bought marijuana last year. That’s more than the number of people who live in the entire province of Alberta.

We’re not talking about some fringe subculture.

And this has not been secret: Since the 1990s, political leaders have gone through the ritual of publicly admitting they have smoked pot at some point, which rather than hurting them, for awhile might have made them seem hip, though now it’s just an admission they’ve led normal lives. And yet, until now, that admission has also made them – at least the ones who’ve achieved any power – bigger and bigger hypocrites.

Because the whole time pot has been a completely normal social drug (and an often valuable
medicine), weíve been arresting people and convicting them of possessing it. Convictions have ruined lives, and given people records they carry with them to every job search, rental application and border crossing. Even as we’ve prepared to legalize it, weíve continued busting people: In 2015 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada, 54,940 people were arrested on cannabis-related charges, and 76 per cent of those were possession charges.

What a load of police resources we’ve sent up in smoke. What a number of lives we’ve disrupted and ruined. And what a vast criminal black market weíve created and sustained through our long insistence on keeping something so common and relatively victimless illegal.

That ends today. Finally. Hallelujah.

I’m not one of those people who thinks cannabis is completely harmless. I’ve known enough people
who were regular users to understand the negative effects some of them have seen from habitual use. But just as with alcohol or tobacco or caffeine, we can finally recognize those personal risks for users as health issues to tackle, rather than legal ones.

And of course, there are going to be some things to figure out. Sorting out how exactly the sale and distribution works (or doesn’t) will, I expect, be a work in progress for some time. You’ve no doubt been following the concerns about effective enforcement of prohibitions against driving high. The etiquette and bylaws of where you can smoke – and how edibles are packaged and labelled and so on – will evolve.

But finally – finally – that evolution will happen out in the daylight, discussed like any other issue of public concern rather than whispered and sneered in the shadows.

Legalization gives us some new questions to figure out, and answer, in time about the place of
cannabis in our society.

But I bet in the long term, the main question we’ll look back on and ask about legalization is – what took us so long?

Twitter: @thekeenanwire
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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