Pubdate: Fri, 11 Aug 2000
Source: New Brunswick Telegraph Journal (CN NK)
Copyright: 2000 New Brunswick Publishing Company
Author: Robert Sharpe,


Letter-writer Mary Thurrott of the Christian Action Federation of New
Brunswick claims that today's marijuana is 10 times stronger than the
marijuana of the 1970s ("Smoking marijuana is not safe," Aug. 8.) If true,
this is not necessarily a bad thing. Both weak and potent marijuana will
yield the desired result when smoked. The only difference between the two is
that strong marijuana requires significantly less smoke inhalation.

If Ms. Thurrott is truly concerned about lung damage she should be happy
that today's marijuana is stronger.

It is important to note that unlike alcohol, no strain of marijuana -
regardless of potency - has ever proven toxic enough to cause an overdose
death. This is not to say that marijuana should be legal because it is
relatively harmless. Like any drug, marijuana can be harmful if abused. I
doubt that anyone in the drug policy reform movement will deny that. It is
not the effects of marijuana that necessitate legalization, but rather the
effects of drug laws.

In North America, children have an easier time buying marijuana than beer.
While a liquor store will refuse to sell alcohol to a minor to avoid losing
its license, a drug dealer will sell to anyone.

More disturbing is the manner in which marijuana users come into contact
with pushers of harder drugs. The "gateway to hard drugs" status often
ascribed to marijuana is a direct result of its illegal status, not any
inherent quality of the plant itself. If I purchase a bottle of wine at a
state-regulated liquor store, I am not offered free samples of crack
cocaine. Yet marijuana smokers routinely come into contact with pushers of
deadly hard drugs. The black market status of marijuana puts its
distribution in the hands of organized crime. In effect, drug laws finance
organized crime which, in turn, fuels violence and corruption.

The North American experience with alcohol prohibition confirms that
legalization will not only eliminate drug law-related violence, but also
make it significantly harder for children to purchase drugs. Canada has
before it a unique opportunity to make amends for decades of
counterproductive drug policy.

While Ms. Thurrott suggests that future generations will ask why marijuana
was legalized should such a policy shift occur, a better question is, why
was it ever made illegal in the first place?

The history of marijuana laws is quite interesting. Virtually no North
Americans smoked marijuana until our governments started telling us not to.
Prior to the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and subsequent reefer
madness propaganda, few U.S. citizens had ever heard of the drug. Marijuana
use was limited to Mexican migrants and a handful of black musicians. It has
been argued by historians that the original marijuana laws were a racist
reaction to Mexican labourers taking jobs from whites during a time of
economic depression.

Marijuana prohibition was never based on science. If health outcomes
determined drug laws, marijuana would be legal and alcohol and tobacco would
not. Legislation was passed in large part due to American newspaper magnate
William Randolph Hearst's sensationalist yellow journalism. Incredibly
violent acts were allegedly committed by minorities under the influence of
marijuana. The laws were a means of disenfranchising minorities.

Exposing the racist roots of the drug war may help shed light on Canada's
marijuana legalization debate. In many respects, the drug war has always
been a culture war. The most ardent modern-day supporters of marijuana
prohibition tend to confuse the marijuana leaf with the counterculture of
the 1960s, despite the fact that the plant has been mainstream for years. In
doing so, they ignore the tremendous societal harm caused by drug laws and
the manner in which marijuana prohibition is actually counterproductive at
protecting youth from drugs.

Robert Sharpe, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
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