Pot: a new prescription
The war on marijuana is coming to an end.
Marijuana use is making inroads in the medical community, catching up with centuries of common practice. It’s use for medical purposes, according to the United Nations, dates back to 3000 BC, when researchers say its properties were recognized as an anti-inflammatory with no side effects — including addiction.
Marijuana became illegal in most parts of the world in the early 20th century, spawning a black market, much like the days of prohibition, that gave birth to a new, violent criminal element. The cost came in uncountable murders during drug turf wars in countries of marijuana origin, and corrupt officials cashing in on the highly lucrative market — never mind the cost to society to prosecute and jail countless users, sellers and importers. The war on drugs has been an incredible drain on taxpayers.
And then consider the tax revenue legalized marijuana could represent to society.
In some ways, that’s about to change in Canada, the United States and perhaps Mexico, where the struggle for cannabis supremacy has been among the most brutal in the world, rife with killings and government corruption.
This week, the Canadian government announced it’s launching a $1.3-billion free market in medical marijuana, eventually aimed at serving upwards of 450,000 Canadians seeking medical relief from various inflictions.
“Health Canada is phasing out an older system today that mostly relied on small-scale, homegrown medical marijuana of varying quality, often diverted illegally to the black market,” reported Canadian Press.
Often, those in medical need who couldn’t obtain the drug legally due to tough Health Canada regulations turned to the streets — nurturing the illicit trade, and all the costs associated with that trade.
Sophie Galarneau, a senior official with Health Canada, said, “We’re fairly confident that we’ll have a healthy commercial industry in time. It’s a whole other ballgame.”
Indeed it is, and it’s a win-win ballgame for Canada and its taxpayers.
Studies have shown the illegal trade of marijuana generates about $20 billion annually in Canada. That’s income that has never been taxed.
“End the cannabis cash cow to organized crime,” demanded former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ross Lander, who along with other high profile B.C. government officials launched the B.C. coalition Stop the Violence.
Dr. Evan Wood of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS said that “Instead of having a regulated market, we’ve turned things over to this extremely violent, unregulated market controlled by organized crime.”
Cannabis has been widely accepted for treating people with arthritis, glaucoma, inflammatory bowel disease, and the side effects of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or other forms of therapy that leave them feeling nauseous and robs them of an appetite.
The treatment of such inflictions cost the Canadian health-care system $33 billion in 2011.
But Health Canada has long maintained the “possible side effects” of marijuana use have never been properly researched.
Why not, after all these years?
Some groups have claimed marijuana is addictive and a gateway drug to more devastating drugs. But there is little science to suggest such claims are true — certainly no more than it is fair to say that alcohol and tobacco are likely to serve as gateway drugs to other substances.
So why the big change in the federal government’s attitude? Simply put, the U.S. government, which has spent $1.3 trillion on its war on drugs, concedes the war on marijuana has been lost — and it only cost U.S. taxpayers $500 billion more than the Iraqi conflict.
In last November’s U.S. election, the States of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana. Six more states have legalization legislation pending.
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Justice said it will not challenge state laws that allow medical or recreational use of pot — provided strict distribution laws are in place. Those include prohibiting distribution to minors and sales that assist gang activities.
Now prominent Mexican citizens have joined the movement toward legalization, citing 80,000 murders since 2007 and government corruption during turf wars.
An ad in a prominent Mexican newspaper urged the decriminalization. Endorsed by a number of influential figures, the ad argued that criminalization encourages drug cartels, and it noted that the U.S. and Uruguay are taking steps towards legalization. “Mexico has paid a high cost for applying punitive policy of prohibition,” the ad read in part.
This will not be an easy transition. But the war on marijuana has proved too costly. It is time to end it.
Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.