Legalizing pot in Washington state stirs attention in Canada

This year’s Hempfest in Seattle will really have something to celebrate. Photo: Isa Sorensen, 2008, CC some rights reserved

The decision by voters in Washington and Colorado to legalize recreational use of marijuana has potential political and economic significance in Canada.

Of course, it remains to be seen to what degree the U.S. federal government will allow or impede state action on that issue. But a lot of pot that ends up in the U.S. is grown north of the border. Interest in decriminalization is widespread in Canada too.

For a long time in Canada a major argument against more liberal drug laws was such a stance would seriously displease U.S. politicians and law officials and further complicate cross-border traffic.

That was then, though. Right now the main barrier is that the current party in power champions “law & order” platforms and does not favor decriminalizing marijuana. The CBC reports that pro-legalization factions in British Columbia are feeling energized by passage of those measures in Washington and Colorado, and hope that province will follow suit.

It’s difficult to gauge the value of illegal activity, but the underground pot market in Canada is estimated at $6-$8 billion in B.C. alone. Within the province new research by University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University has pegged internal sales in B.C. to be in the range of a half-billion dollars. Researchers associated with those studies say data about economic value and possible tax revenue can help determine appropriate legal/social policy.

And article in the Vancouver Sun cites the same studies as offering support for some degree of legalization of marijuana as a preferable tactic for increasing tax revenue and improving public safety:

“This isn’t just a problem because of all the grow ops and home invasions and hydro theft and gang activity,” said the study’s senior author Evan Wood in an interview. “It’s also what fuels the importation of cocaine and guns into Canada.”

Ans what do B.C. growers think about Washington legalizing pot? Samuel Kirz interviewed one anonymous drug industry player, who says “the law’s impact on the overall export market will be negligible”. That dealer says legalization in Canada would be a good thing for a number of reasons, including this quip:

“Another benefit is that the violence would decrease. The people who work for Budweiser don’t shoot the people who work for Coors.”

Do you see the Washington and Colorado votes as turning points on marijuana policy? Or will the DEA continue to use federal law to trump state control of that issue?

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47 Comments on “Legalizing pot in Washington state stirs attention in Canada”

  1. It has become painfully evident to anyone who’s paying attention that outlawing pot use is no more successful that prohibition was in the US. It’s time for a change of strategy to control and taxation.

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  2. Kent Gregson says:

    The “war on drugs” is as much a fallacy as the “war on poverty”. It’s a government system that gets gamed by special interests and folks who use their intelligence to make money surfing the “system” or systems involved. Thus there’s a lot of money available to keep things the way they are. Fortunately, all systems eventually break down. Reading the book “Cannibis” by Martin Booth, a history written in 2003 has shown me that like caffene and chocolate, Cannibis has been in and out of legal favor over the centuries. Merely changing the rules may reduce corruption for a short while. Meanwhile, let’s not study war no more, It doesn’t seem to help.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    I read or heard someplace recently that even Mexico is talking about legalizing pot.
    I have a sneaking suspicion that the big money boys and girls in beer, wine and hard booze pay to keep pot illegal because they don’t want cheap competition.
    Nothing against beer, wine and booze, just think free enterprise needs more competition.
    After all, Jesus was a wine maker and let us not forget God created the marijuana plant.

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  4. John Warren says:

    Not only is the War on Drugs ignorant and hypocritical, but CPS and the courts continue to take children away from their parents for possessing and/or growing small amounts of marijuana for their own use.

    It’s well beyond time to knock it off. But more importantly, until the law changes, the people involved in destroying and damaging families in the name of a war on pot need to be publicly exposed and shamed.

    Our media should be ACCURATELY reporting this issue and stop ignoring it. If an Arab or Islamic country was imprisoning people and destroying families at the same rate as we are, we’d hear no end about it.

    Once again – where is our press?

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  5. Peter Hahn says:

    I was under the impression that pot growing, being less illegal in Canada than the US, was a major source of income for indoor Canadian growers. Legalizing it in the US might have a serious negative impact on Canada. (As it would on the huge Northern California pot growing industry).

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  6. mervel says:

    I know legalizing prescription narcotics has worked out very well.

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  7. mervel says:

    This effort will happen, but it shows the general decline of a country of addicts and dopers, which is fine, but we shouldn’t complain about not being able to compete in a world economy. We worry about having enough dope to smoke and grow while our competitors overseas are investing in science, technology, engineering and math education and research.

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  8. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Mervel,

    Do you honestly believe the only users of pot are useless, lazy, chronic abusers? Are you aware the largest users of recreational drugs in this nation are professionals? The doctors, attorneys, teachers, ceo’s, engineers, college professors, accountants, law enforcement personnel (yes, law enforcement personnel), etc. living right in your community. The one’s who are active in their schools, volunteer for charitable organizations, sit on our school boards, pay their taxes, invest their time, energy, and brain power in our economy, etc.

    To suggest that allowing these same individuals and others, who have for years responsibly and harmlessly used marijuana in the shadows, to now do so openly and without reprisal from law enforcement somehow jeopardizes our nations international competitiveness is not only insulting to responsible adults, but incredibly naive as to how such responsible use actually affects users.

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  9. Paul says:

    “harmlessly used marijuana in the shadows”

    Is smoking this stuff harmless? There must be similar health effects like you see with smoking tobacco? The nasty volatile stuff in these plants (usually designed to keep things from wanting to eat the plants) is what people like. People will eat or smoke anything! The upside of legalization is you can tax the daylights out of it to pay for the consequences just like with cigs. and booze.

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  10. Two Cents says:

    i reccommend watching “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Polan.
    Hold your opinions about thje marijuana plant untill then.

    They short show highlights the apple, the potato and tulips as well.

    Pushing marijuana cultivation into the “shadows” has done MORE for the development and improvement of plant strains, ironically.

    Ps. the “nasty volitile” stuff in pot is not designed to keep plants from being eaten, its to keep plants from being sun burned. its called thc.
    There have been many studies on pot vs cigarettes in terms of lung cancer.
    maybe if tobacco companies stop putting chemicals into cigarettes they might do better in testing.

    Keep in mind dopamine receptors in our brains are like locks with only one specific key to open it.
    We have such receptors in our brains that only match up with thc, so we were designed to use that chemical, plain and simple.

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  11. Mervel says:

    Clapton yes I realize that some professionals use drugs including pot. There are professionals who are functioning alcoholics and narcotics abusers also who serve a variety of functions in our community. They are in the distinct minority of chronic substance abusers however.

    I don’t mean to categorize individuals who use drugs as worthless. My point was that as a culture I don’t see this as a good sign, pot does harm the brain so does alcohol so do narcotics, the US does not do a good job with moderation, we are not a moderate people.

    However I am also essentially against the concept of a war on drugs or stiff criminal penalties for drugs, we as a society simply need to address our basic problems of substance abuse on a broader scale, that will include using the law, but also a much broader focus on treatment and an understanding of why people need to numb themselves to be happy.

    We don’t know the impact of long term pot use, the results are all over the map, it certainly does impact your brain and your lungs however. The national tobacco industry has already began gearing up for legalization, copy writing names, looking at marketing strategies etc, this will be big business and will be marketed just like tobacco is. I don’t know it just seems like do we really need another thing to get high with in this country? I just think it is an overall bad sign.

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  12. Mervel says:

    Pot use will radically increase with full legalization, look how much narcotics use has exploded with legalization and that is only given out legally using a prescription.

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  13. Walker says:

    “Pot use will radically increase with full legalization…”

    Mervel, that is by no means a given. Where do you find data showing that “narcotics use has exploded with legalization”?

    Alcohol consumption did not explode following the repeal of Prohibition. The only thing exploding thanks to our wars on drugs is our prison population and the murder rate in Mexico. In the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal to use and to sell, usage is less than half the level in the U.S. and they have one fifth the murder rate and one seventh the prison rate.

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  14. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Those nasty, volatile compounds found in marijuana have proven to be beneficial to the human body if used in moderation. Everyone likes to only consider THC and its negative side effects and at the same time discount their benefits. Also, the proven benefits of Cannanibinoids found in marijuana are ignored altogether. Most people don’t even know they are present in marijuana or their benefits as proven by science. There have been recent studies indicating their benefit as a cancer fighter and for the treatment of many disorders including PTSD in soldiers.

    Oh and by the way, smoking is but one method if ingesting marijuana. Vaporizing and ingesting via sprays and foods are far more less damaging to the lungs and are methods used by many users. Part of the problem with this entire debate is the obvious stereotypes and ignorance associated with marijuana use. The propaganda spouted forth by the interests who benefit from prohibition is not easily corrected it would seem. Add in the obvious double standard this very benign plant is held to and it’s amazing to think we’ve come as far as we have.

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  15. Matt says:

    “Pot use will radically increase with full legalization…”
    Who out there wants to use marijuana, just can’t find any? When I was in high school it was way easier to get pot than alcohol. I had friends who sold it and they didn’t need to see ID. It was much harder to find alcohol because there weren’t beer dealers in my age group.

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  16. Mervel says:

    Walker the main data I am basing that on is the explosion in narcotics abuse since the legalization and marketing of all of the morphine based pain meds-vicodin, oxy etc. 15 years ago these were not available, people did not go buy morphine and heroin for their back pain. But once morphine based narcotics became legitimate there was an explosion, essentially an epidemic of abuse.

    Now certainly these are physically addicting unlike pot, however many many people particularly young people will try and use pot once it is legal who would not otherwise. Many people don’t use it now because to buy pot today you have to be part of and support criminal networks, you essentially are funding drug cartels that kill many innocent people, there ARE actually people that have a moral problem with being part of that.

    Once you can buy a pack of pot smokes a the sunoco, many new clients will spring up for the product. Of course you will also increase customers due to the marketing that will take place, RJR knows how to sell smokes and that is who is going to be selling pot when it becomes fully legal. It will be a massive corporate business.

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  17. Mervel says:

    Once again I am against this crazy drug enforcement culture for pot; I think criminal penalties should not really exist for pot use. However that does not mean we should go down this road of full legalization.

    Like I said I think it will end up being legal and it is hard to make a case that it is worse than alcohol, my point was that it will be bad for our culture, we don’t need to get any more stupid than we already are.

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  18. Walker says:

    Mervel, 15 years ago there were most certainly legal morphine-related pain meds available with a prescription, just as there are now. The difference is in the marketing: they told doctors that time-release pain meds like oxy-codone were safe to prescribe, and they started marketing them heavily. The way they’re being abused isn’t legal for the most part. But as much as anything else, your comment proves that prohibition doesn’t work, but marketing does.

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  19. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Mervel,

    Please don’t misread my tone here as I’m not trying to be disrespectful or condescending, but trust me when I tell you that many users obtain their marijuana right here in upstate, NY from growers who are not at all associated with drug cartels. Instead they get their product from your neighbor down the street who pays his taxes, works among us, and gives to his/her community as much as the next guy and just so happens to grow a few plants in his/her back yard or field down the road.

    They grow their own herb primarily for the reasons you suggest in your 2:21 PM post. That is to avoid the crime element. Along those lines, they may give small quantities to other users, or, in some cases, may sell small amounts. They don’t do it to make bundles of money but to have their own product and help others avoid the pitfalls of obtaining a simple plant some have deemed to be some vile, horrible thing.

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  20. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    “we don’t need to get any more stupid than we already are.”

    You’re making a very big leap here, Mervel, to assume responsible use by adults necessarily makes them stupid. With regard to your safety comparison to alcohol, people have and will continue to die from drinking too much of it during just one sitting or over months and years of chronic use. Marijuana, however, has never killed anyone from simply ingesting it into your system either by smoke, vapor, in food, or any other method. Alcohol is toxic at any level, marijuana is the complete opposite and is benign at any level. There’s no comparison in terms of toxicity between the two.

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  21. Mervel says:

    So marijuana is completely safe?

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  22. Paul says:

    “Mervel, that is by no means a given. Where do you find data showing that “narcotics use has exploded with legalization”? ”

    Here you answered your own question:

    “prohibition doesn’t work, but marketing does.”

    Narcotics use exploded when the drug companies started working their magic. Same goes for all the other crap we take that we don’t need. Same goes for pot eventually. Walker, I doubt that pot will be some kind of exception to this rule. Do you?

    But money makes the world go round so there you go. More power to em.

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  23. Paul says:

    Mervel look at what he (or she) is saying not only is pot safe it could be the ticket to health! I have seen some pretty stupid things being done by people high on pot same goes for folks that are drunk. Anyone who thinks that a mind altering drug is safe (whether that be THC or a prescription drug) should have another drink or maybe another joint.

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  24. Walker says:

    No, pot isn’t perfectly safe, but it is certainly less debilitating than alcohol.

    And if the problem is with advertizing, then maybe we need to legalize pot but outlaw pot advertizing. But it doesn’t make sense to spend billions keeping tens of thousands of people in jail.

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  25. mervel says:

    Well we have common ground on that Walker, it certainly does not make sense to spend so much both on trying to prevent the smuggling and growing of pot and enforcing our rules against pot usage. However very very few people are in prison for pot possession today. We imprison people for large amounts and for dealing and for the crime that follows any illegal business like pot is today. But I do agree we need a new approach.

    Even I can see that the cure is worse than the disease in this case.

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  26. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I do think that some pro-pot advocates have rosy-colored glasses when it comes to thinking it’s some kind of harmless wonder drug that’ll save the world, but no more so than the opponents who think that it causes crime and heroin addiction. It’s a mood-altering drug; sometimes it has different effects on different people, makes them happy or silly or feel creative or a bit paranoid. Whatever it does to you, it doesn’t impair your coordination or your thought process nearly as much as pretty much any other drug out there. It causes almost nobody to act violent, which you sure can’t say for alcohol. There’s no justification for arresting people and messing up their lives because they like to smoke marijuana.

    I don’t really don’t think use would increase much if it was legal — pretty much everyone who is curious about it has already tried it, and people who like it know where to get it and smoke it. If you look at Portugal and the Netherlands, use rates didn’t change much when they decriminalized it. I think that’s a better comparison than prescription narcotics, which are highly addictive, prescribed to people for pain and end up hooking some people who might not even have been interested in using drugs otherwise.

    As far as health effects — yeah, you’re inhaling smoke, that’s not good for you. Theoretically, you could get lung cancer or emphysema. But what are the chances? Most people who smoke cigarettes don’t even get those, and they smoke 20 or 30 of those things a day. Unless you’re smoking an ounce a day like Snoop Dogg, I don’t think you have to worry much about those risks.

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  27. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Of course people can do stupid things when inebriated. That doesn’t in itself make the drug horribly bad for you. Nor is it a reason to make it illegal for otherwise law abiding adults to use it in moderation should they choose to. My response to Mervil was relating to his comparison of alcohol to marijuana. And certainly marijuana is bad for you if one abuses it over long periods of time. Too much of anything is not good for you, even exercise. But marijuana is no where near as toxic to the human body as compared to alcohol.

    And if safety is the standard of measure as to whether a substance should be legal, we had better begin busting people for eating too many Big Macs, or for not exercising regularly, or for eating too many twinkies, or drinking two many bottles of wine. My point of course being that there exists an all too obvious double standard with regard to marijuana prohibition.

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  28. Matt says:

    Mervel,

    Alcohol is all around worse than pot. Its worse for your health, families, society. The only thing that makes pot worse is because it can only be obtained in the black market.

    Do you think we should return to alcohol prohibition?

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  29. Mervel says:

    Its not about what is worse drug or not, I realize that Alcohol abuse has caused so many problems in our society.

    If you package and market something and give it legitimacy by making it fully legal many more people will try it that did not try it before, I think we have to accept that fact. The question is whether this increased use by a broad cross section of individuals is worth the price of this crazy drug war, in that case I would say no better to legalize it.

    However I think there is a third way which we should explore. But I think what is going to happen in the end is mass marketing of this drug.

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  30. Mervel says:

    The broader question we should be thinking about is why the US has so many problems with drug abuse in general?

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  31. Walker says:

    “If you package and market something and give it legitimacy by making it fully legal many more people will try it that did not try it before, I think we have to accept that fact.”

    Mervel, it’s not a fact until it happens. It hasn’t happened everywhere formerly illicit substances have been legalized.

    It’s an interesting question why the U.S. has such a high level of drug use. As is so often the case these days, there’s too much information out there. It could be largely a matter of our affluence.

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  32. Matt says:

    What is the third way that you think we should explore?

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  33. Paul says:

    Let’s make a deal. I will give you the pot. You give me the hedge funds. No regulations on either. Deal.

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  34. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    The simplest way to decriminalize marijuana is to allow adults over the age of 21 the legal right to grow a maximum number of plants. Prohibit the sale of any quantity to anyone else, especially minors, and also arrest those for driving under the influence. Basically the same way we treat alcohol. You can’t, after all, legally sell alcohol without a liquor license, you can’t drive under the influence, can be arrested for public drunkenness, etc. You can, however, brew your own beer, wine, etc. Why not simply allow adults to grow say a dozen or so plants and possess a relatively small amount of product and use on their own property? The answer lies in the same way we regulate alcohol for adults.

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  35. Matt says:

    Unregulated marijuana will cause just as many problems as prohibition. It should be regulated, like alcohol or tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco are harmful substances, but enough people want to use them, so we regulate them. I am fine with pot remaining an illegal substance, but alcohol and tobacco should also be prohibited.

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  36. Paul says:

    “I am fine with pot remaining an illegal substance, but alcohol and tobacco should also be prohibited.”

    What a party pooper.

    “Why not simply allow adults to grow say a dozen or so plants and possess a relatively small amount of product and use on their own property?”

    No, no, no. Man where is your free market spirit?

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  37. Walker says:

    Yeah, Matt, because look how successful alcohol prohibition was last time around.

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  38. Walker says:

    Bill Clinton:

    Obviously if the expected result was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narco-trafficking networks, it hasn’t worked. […]

    We could have fighting, killing over cigarettes if we made it a felony to sell a cigarette or smoke one. So we legalized it. If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die and it doesn’t solve the problem. [...]

    I think there should be safe places where people who have addiction could come, and not think they’re gonna be arrested and will have basic needs met. I have experience with this including personal experience. I have a brother who was addicted to cocaine, so I know a lot about this.

    Jimmy Carter:

    Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.

    More comments from world leaders here.

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  39. Matt says:

    All I am saying is it doesn’t make sense than booze is legal and pot isn’t. They should be treated the same. Its frustrating arguing with pot prohibitionists who don’t think twice about having a beer at the ball game or a cocktail at a party, yet think pot is somehow the sourge of society.

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  40. Paul says:

    I just think it smells bad. Same goes for cigs and cigars. Cigs are a scourge.

    One problem they do have in Colorado (I lived there for 8 years) is too many people high on pot skiing. Booze is a problem as well on the slopes but it seems pretty tame during the day. Night skiing is a different story when it comes to drinking and skiing but they don’t have much night skiing in CO.

    But this was a problem even when pot was illegal. Everyone there just ignores the law anyway so this makes sense for Colorado. I hope it doesn’t get worse, it probably won’t.

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  41. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Paul,

    I’d be all for selling it but am referring to the easiest way to decriminalize. Were we ever to go the route or regulated sales, I would advocate a system similar to alcohol and tobacco. That is to say one would need a “marijuana license” like one needs a liquor license at present. Take a look at the system already in place for the sale of medicinal marijuana in Colorado. Their system is highly regulated and extremely sophisticated. They are light years ahead of other states in terms of how they license, regulate, and tax their medicinal shops despite having only allowed for medicinal marijuana for only a few years now. Of course their system is about to change with full legalization on the horizon.

    The key with any reform in my opinion is that we don’t create or allow for a wild west type of scenario and absolutely regulate to some degree. As I’ve said previous, reform doesn’t have to create more problems than it solves. We just need to have an honest debate with actual facts among adults who aren’t blinded by the false propaganda and influenced by special interests who only see dollar signs.

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  42. Two Cents says:

    I like it just how it is. Illegal and unregulated. The moment we try to regulate things, the bag rips open and the sh@t falls out the bottom.
    Decriminalize possesion. Allow cultivation.
    Licensing? bet you wont be able to afford one if and when-never mind finding seeds.
    Besides, do you want phillip morris screwing up pot like they did tobacco?
    Do you think ADM will treat it any differently then they do the rest of our food sources?
    I trust the guy who grew it in his backyard for HIS own consumption more.

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  43. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Decriminalize possesion. Allow cultivation.”

    As I said previous in this thread, this is the easiest way to move forward and I agree entirely with this suggestion.

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  44. Walker says:

    Mervel’s probably right, though– allowing commercial development and advertizing, like we do with liquor, would probably be a huge mistake.

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  45. Matt says:

    Paul,

    What problems were the stoned skiers causing. Fights? Long lines at the concession stand? Too much giggling?

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  46. Two Cents says:

    Matt-
    skiing too casually.

    Seriously, i wouldn’t want a drunk skier on the slopes with me either, or someone who has a bad back and uses perscription drugs. Somethings just don’t mix for me, they may for others. night skiing apeals to stoners i guess, but not this one.
    For a thought- look at the backlash on ciggarette smokers.
    can’t in a bar, restaurant, movie theater, playground, in your car with children, outside in general in public spaces in most large US cities- remember when you could smoke at work?
    You cant even smoke at home on your own couch if your home is an apt/condo. you could be polluting your common wall mate through the cracks.

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  47. Mervel says:

    I think for me it is more of a matter of having a productive, happy relatively sober society. Throwing people in jail for selling pot to the millions of people who want pot does not really make sense, it punishes the poor for the desires of the relatively wealthy.

    So I really am against the all out war on drugs idea and spending billions on strict prohibition. The question is how to reduce overall use of all substances? I also do not want to see a massive push in marketing and sales of pot, not because it is worse than booze, but because it is like booze, we don’t need one more thing to party with in my opinion.

    But I think we can do these things without the war on drugs. Look at tobacco, we have made it very hard to be a smoker and smoking is really going down. For many professional jobs today you really don’t want to walk into the interview or the first day of work smelling like cigg smoke.

    I think with drugs we would want to find ways to reduce drug use without prison. There is no law against saying that you can’t get student loans if you can’t pass a drug test for example. We could look at expanding private consequences for drug usage and broader drug testing. Let drugs be legal but with consequences in the private sector.

    The problem we have with drugs is not an oversupply problem, the problem we have is a demand problem. The war on drugs focuses on supply using expensive enforcement and legal penalties.

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