That skunk-like smell of high-grade marijuana wafting through the air at rock concerts or in city parks during the annual “smoke-in” protests is not going to blow away in the wind.
Like it or not, pot is here to stay no matter how tough the laws get. And the tax-free, multibillion-dollar underground industry will continue to breed the criminal element that stops at nothing, including murder, to protect the trade.
During last week’s U.S. elections, voters in the Colorado and Washington voted in favour of legalizing cannabis.
While U.S. authorities say the victory could be short-lived because federally the substance is still illegal, voters in those two states have made a significant statement that Canada and the rest of the U.S. can’t ignore.
On the same day, Canada’s tough new mandatory penalties for pot came into effect.
Canada’s new law will likely have little impact on the trade here. It’s too rich to be denied.
The criminal element is raking in an estimated $6 billion to $8 billion annually — tax-free. And frequent drug-related murders attest to the fact that criminal gangs are serious about protecting their trade.
A study released prior to the U.S. elections by a respected Mexican think tank said legalizing marijuana in those two states will hit the Mexican drug cartels hard in the wallet. The Mexican Competitive Institute said in its report that drug cartel earnings from traffic to the U.S. could be reduced as much as 30 per cent.
Those drug cartels, according to recent statistics, have been linked to almost 60,000 murders in Mexico in the past six years. In addition, the lure of immense profits have meant that criminal elements have infiltrated the Mexican government, corrupting high-ranking officials.
Do the almost 60,000 murders not bolster the argument that legalization would make a serious dent in the criminal element?
Despite Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s pledge to crack down on the cartels, the killings continue unabated. To date this year, more than 11,000 murders have been linked to the cartels. In October, 888 people were killed — the second-lowest monthly total this year.
Closer to home, growers in B.C. of a particularly powerful pot are nervous about the U.S. vote results. Legalization in Washington could impact the demand for B.C. pot.
The Canadian coalition Stop the Violence B.C. is confident the Washington vote will have an impact on gang violence in that province. The group, made up former judges, Crown prosecutors and high-ranking political figures, is adamant that prohibition of pot is a failed strategy. It fuels bloody gangs wars, they contend, and facilitates the influx of guns and cocaine when it’s traded into the U.S. via organized crime.
“The take-away for politicians is to realize voters on both sides of the border are increasingly wanting this change, and that should make politicians both nervous about what will happen if they don’t listen to voters and also less nervous about the risk associated with the change,” said coalition supporter Geoff Plant, a former B.C. attorney general.
Other proponents say the U.S. votes demonstrate that Canada is falling behind the U.S. in developing evidence-based policies. The evidence is clear — the trade in pot cultivates a criminal element and robs the tax bank of billions of dollars.
But the Harper government charges on, calling for a minimum six months in jail for growing as few as six pot plants. That’s twice the mandatory minimum for luring children to watch pornography or exposing oneself on a playground.
University of Ottawa criminologist Eugene Oscapella sums it up perfectly: “People have begun increasingly to realize the current system, the use of the criminal law, imports terrible, terrible collateral harms — and it does not stop people from using drugs.”
Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.