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Clements: The Future of Cannabis in Canada-U.S Relations: Federal Governments vs. State and Provincial Legislatures?

December 1, 2012

In light of the recent constitutional amendments in Colorado and Washington State legalizing recreational use of Cannabis, we are in for some interesting times for Canada-U.S relations.

Both countries are currently at a fundamental cross-road. On the one hand, we have the Federal governments of both countries living in a world of ever-increasing prohibition, where no foreseeable end to this war is in sight. While local residents in both countries push for reform, Canada and the U.S recently expanded the global drug war by sending troops to Guatemala.

As many Canadians are aware, the recent passage of the Conservative Omnibus crime bill introduced draconian crime legislation that makes it a longer prison sentence to grow six pot plants than it would be to molest a child.
Meanwhile, those involved directly with the War on Drugs are overwhelmingly calling it a failure. Four former B.C Attorney Generals recently called on the province to legalize Cannabis, calling it an unquestionable failure.

The question is, who is it failing and who is it benefitting? The prison industry is one of these. In Michelle Alexander’s book, called “The New Jim Crow” she details how specifically cannabis prohibition laws have been used to directly target black, voting aged males. She argues that we are living in times not too dissimilar to the era of legal discrimination which existed in post-civil war America.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, with notable figures such as Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland and George Shultz, former U.S Secretary of state, published an extensively researched report concluding that the War on Drugs is a needless failure.

The debate must move beyond the conversation of ‘if’ these drugs are bad and ‘how’ they destroy society. It is the responsibility of governments to provide policies based on harm reduction. We must move past the penal regime that is creating criminals instead of treating patients. As the evidence from Portugal suggests, broad decriminalization, including substances such as cocaine and methamphetamines, not only reduces use but also helps addicts seek treatment.

Decriminalizing these substances is not akin to condoning them. This popular argument negates the failure of governments to actively pursue policy that integrates an empirically-based approach to drug policy.

In fact, our current crime and punishment heavy regime actually costs taxpayers and communities more than most people think, especially in the United States.

Interestingly, this progress may be forced onto the federal governments by states and provinces who are cash strapped and beginning to realize that harm reduction and regulation is preferable to gang and cartel profits.

Canadians cannot afford to have their hard earned tax dollars wasted on crime legislation that he more draconian than the American’s. Canadians furthermore deserve policy based on sound economic realities and that move fear-mongering politics that only harms the very citizens the legislation is aimed at protecting.

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