OTTAWA — Don’t fear the reefer. That’s the message to the Conservative government from a group that fights to legalize pot.
The Beyond Prohibition Foundation says weed could be a real cash crop for Canada.
“We’re talking about $400 million (that) is spent every year arresting just about 50,000 (people) — plus or minus a few thousand people, depending on the year — and that’s just for possession,” said Jacob Hunter, the Vancouver-based group’s policy director.
“It goes up to 80,000 when you factor in trafficking and production. So we’re talking about $400 million in savings on the possession side and then about $2 billion in revenue, assuming a whole number of variables.
Delegates at the Liberal convention on the weekend backed a resolution from the party’s youth wing calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
However, the resolution is not binding and there’s no guarantee the party will ever actually campaign on legalizing pot, even though interim leader Bob Rae endorsed the position in principle.
The idea has no chance of ever becoming law under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which has taken a hard line on drug use.
The Fraser Institute, a conservative research group, did its own study in 2004 on potential revenues arising from legal marijuana and, like Hunter’s group, came up with a $2-billion-a-year estimate.
Statistics Canada says roughly half of the 108,600 police-reported drug crimes in Canada in 2010 were for possession of marijuana.
The agency notes that the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has pegged the cost of illegal drug use — which includes expenses for police, courts and correctional services — at about $2 billion each year.
A glance across the Atlantic offers an interesting case study in decriminalizing pot.
Portugal decriminalized simple possession of all drugs in 2001. A study published 10 years later in the British Journal of Criminology found fewer teens using drugs, fewer cases of HIV and AIDS and more drugs seized by police from big traffickers.
However, it’s worth noting that Portugal already had one of the lowest drug-use rates in the European Union before it decriminalized possession.
Still, Hunter argues legalizing marijuana would actually cut down on crime in Canada.
He adds it would also take organized crime out of the picture and allow the government to sell weed in a controlled environment.
But what about long lineups clogging the border as American pot-lovers rush to Canada for a legal toke?
That was former American ambassador Paul Cellucci’s great concern when Paul Martin’s Liberal government drafted legislation calling for modest fines for people caught with small amounts of marijuana.
Hunter doubts the Americans would do anything drastic.
“I don’t think the U.S. would do anything other than huff and puff,” he said.
More than a dozen states have already decriminalized the drug.
Last year, Connecticut became the 13th state to do so. The Hartford Courant newspaper reported the state could save $885,000 every year in court costs and attorney salaries, and make as much as $1.4 million in fines and fees.
However, marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law. In Canada, the drug has been illegal since 1923.