Marijuana debate heats up in U.S. and Canada

Cannabis as illustrated in Kohler's book of medicinal plants from 1897. Source: Wikipedia

Cannabis as illustrated in Kohler’s book of medicinal plants from 1897. Source: Wikipedia

What to do about marijuana – medical or otherwise – seems to be a hot topic just now.

In early July New York State approved a new system that will permit sale of medical marijuana, although there’s a set-up period of at least 18 months. Twenty-three U.S. states permit some type of medical marijuana at present. Colorado launched legal sales of recreational marijuana from regulated shops on January 1 of this year. Here’s a Q & A on that from CNN. Legal sales of recreational marijuana the state of Washington began in July.

The New York Times is running coordinated editorials and background articles positioned to bolster a catchy summary: “Repeal prohibition, again” The editorial board of the Times concludes that criminalizing marijuana hasn’t worked and doesn’t make sense.

Canada recently overhauled national policy relating to medical marijuana in favor of regulated sales from government-approved facilities to persons with “valid Authorizations to Possess.” Indeed, a supplier is growing pot right now in the former Hershey’s Chocolate facility in Smiths Falls Ontario. NCPR’s Sarah Harris produced this first-hand look back in February when she toured the Tweed facility.

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s James Bagnall, Tweed’s Chief Financial Officer thinks the medical marijuana industry is on the cusp of the type of huge, rapid growth seen in the heady days of the high tech boom.

Health Canada is reportedly dealing with an avalanche of applications to produce medical marijuana. Meanwhile doctors are expressing ill-ease with the role of gate-keeping who can have a prescription for the drug, along with other concerns. Speaking to the Ottawa Citizen, Dr. Danial Schecter, a doctor who runs a Toronto clinic that assesses patients for cannabis prescriptions estimated that:

…about 10 per cent of doctors are comfortable prescribing marijuana; 10 per cent are against it; and 80 per cent are interested but lack the education they need to make an informed decision.

Some doctors may be concerned that they are jumping on a “marijuana bandwagon,” he said, in light of mistakes made in the past: For example, the liberal prescription of OxyContin, an addictive opioid drug.

“The medical establishment is a bit scared we’re going to make the same mistakes,”

In the midst of questions, confusion and change, medical marijuana may or may not be some sort of “next big thing” in Canada, but where does that leave recreational marijuana? In flux, just as in the U.S.

As reported by Mark Kennedy for the Ottawa Citizen, a recent opinion poll commissioned by the ruling Conservative Party produced these statistics:

— 37.3 per cent say marijuana should be legalized;

— 33.4 per cent say possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized with a fine rather than a criminal record;

— Just 13.7 per cent say the country’s marijuana laws should stay the same;

— 12 per cent said marijuana penalties should be increased.

Positions on marijuana may be an issue in the next federal election slated for 2015. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau got out in front of the “do you inhale?” question by stating he’s had the occasional toke in social settings, even after being elected to Parliament. The Liberal Party is on record as wanting to consider legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

Canada’s most famous marijuana advocate (some would say martyr) Marc Emery was sentenced in 2010 to 5 years (less time served while awaiting trial) for running a seed-selling company in Canada. Emery’s impending release will return the long-time marijuana advocate to what the CBC describes as an entirely new landscape:

… where two U.S. states are now issuing recreational pot licences, medical growers are reaping profits and investors aren’t hedging on potential opportunities.

The 56-year-old Vancouver resident was extradited to Seattle in May 2010, when he pleaded guilty to selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers before serving his time in several U.S. corrections’ facilities.

When he was first arrested almost a decade ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency heralded his seizure as a “significant blow” to the legalization movement.

Marc Emery and wife Jodie Emery at Toronto Freedom Festival, May 2010. Source: Wikipedia

Marc Emery and wife Jodie Emery at Toronto Freedom Festival, May 2010. Source: Wikipedia

Never one to mince words, Emery told the CBC what he plans to once he’s back in Canada, presumably in August.

“My own government betrayed me and I’m going to wreak an appropriate amount of political revenge when I get home and campaign against the Conservative government,” Emery said.

“The whole thing is nonsense. I should never have been turned over to the U.S. government,” said the fervent Liberal supporter, already fired up for next year’s general election.

Emery is something of a loose cannon, so his embrace of the Liberal Party has been one-sided thus far. But he’s still a potent symbol: years of jail time for selling seeds of a simple plant that’s starting to lose notoriety.

It’s hard to be among the last casualties in a fight that may end without victory for the stated cause. And it remains to be seen if there’s enough consensus in the U.S. and Canada to remove marijuana from any larger war on drugs. Still, there’s more change than usual blowing in this particular wind.

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18 Comments on “Marijuana debate heats up in U.S. and Canada”

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  1. The Original Larry says:

    Yeah sure, legalize it and tax it. Then, we can use the tax revenue to fund education, just like we did with legalized gambling. How’s that working out?

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Maybe it is working out more like the revenues from beer and liquor taxes.

  3. Kent Gregson says:

    Legalize cultivation of the plant. Step away from taxation and regulation. Abandon the failed policies of the past. Give the government a failing grade and move on.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    When people say, “Legalize it and tax it,” I say legalize it a tax it but don’t tax it like we now tax cigarettes because you will only create a black market which defeats the whole purpose of taxing it.
    When taxing is used to do two things at the same time (make money and discourage use), it sends a mix message and creates the opportunity for crime.
    Just legalize it and tax it like most things are taxed. This way those who need it for medical reasons will be able to get it for about the same price cigarettes would cost if we didn’t tax cigarettes at a criminal level – and those who want for the same reasons people buy beer, could get it without going to a drug dealer.
    The way things now stand with cigarettes, the government is Big Tobacco and the manufactures of cigarettes are small tobacco.

  5. There has never been a legitimate rationale for the prohibition of marijuana. The fact is there is not one credible scientific study that proves that adults who use marijuana pose a threat to themselves or our society — not one. And keep in mind that the operative word here is “credible.”

  6. BossIlluminati says:

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for 20 years, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy…#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed…

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states and NEW YORK (CBD = Can’t Be Done), sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states and more blacks are in prison then were slaves before the civil war…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol: Millions
    Deaths by Tobacco: Millions

    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
Deaths by Guns: Millions
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever


  7. Not Dead Yet! says:

    I think the North Country should ask for a special exemption from New York State marijuana laws to counteract the impact of lost prisons and boost our regions economy. We have been humiliating law enforcement’s efforts at prohibition since alcohol prohibition, and we both grow considerable amounts of pot here as well as smuggle pot through from Canada.

    Imagine if the only place you could buy pot legally was in St. Lawrence county. Our economy would boom like never before. Our colleges would be full.

  8. Michael Greer says:

    If the government would drop the prohibition, the value of marijuana would drop like a stone. Really good pot would be like craft beer, and would create interesting jobs for farmers, plant scientists, and those clever marketing folks, instead of boring jobs for police and prison guards.

  9. Michael Greer says:

    Someone should calculate the costs of this ridiculous period of prohibition. Law enforcement, court costs, prisons and prison guards, lives and jobs interrupted or destroyed, and oh my god, don’t forget border security. It’s almost as bad as the cold war, and only beginning to change because we’ve discovered that we can’t afford to keep supporting the artificial structures we’ve created.
    Where would we be if we hadn’t spent all that time, energy, and money on such foolishness? It’s certain that there would be more useless potheads out there, but probably not more that the habitual drunks that we tolerate. We might have been able to do something else with our time and talent…and our tax dollars…like maybe good schools.

  10. The Original Larry says:

    Yesterday, on the Northway, I was for a brief time side by side with some clown smoking weed (or some other drug) in an ornate pipe (no chance at all of it being a tobacco pipe) whilst driving at 70 mph in a car that also carried another adult and a child. We have finally made some progress against those who habitually drive with a cooler full of beer beside them and now you want to add another entire class of idiots to the equation. Sure, go right ahead and legalize it.

  11. Michael Greer says:

    Though idiocy may seem boundless, I think that there are a finite number of those who will wilfully endanger the rest of us, and that the numbers won’t grow beyond what we see today. Marijuana may keep them from breeding though, and that might be good in the long run.

  12. hermit thrush says:

    the contradictions continue to amaze me. when it comes to guns, all we hear from conservatives like larry is personal freedom this, personal freedom that. when it comes to marijuana, which is much less dangerous, all that personal freedom talk goes out the window. three cheers for principles!

  13. The Original Larry says:

    I said nothing about personal freedom or principles, which you well know have nothing to do with my comments. For those who missed the points, I mocked the concept of “legalize and tax it” and lamented the “don’t smoke and drive” campaign that must surely follow. I’ll also remind you that gun ownership is a constitutionally guaranteed right, whether you think it should be or not. Big difference.

  14. hermit thrush says:

    but personal freedom and principles have everything to do with the comments about guns you’ve made elsewhere, larry.

    i agree that the second amendment makes a big difference in practice for how laws about guns vs. marijuana are passed, but so what? it has zero impact on the merits.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    Is this about guns or marijuana? Assuming it is still about marijuana (at least for most of us), if you want to smoke it, go right ahead. I don’t dispute your freedom to do so, but I’ll continue to mock the pathetic “principles” underlying this ridiculous “repeal prohibition” campaign.

  16. John David Bourgeois says:

    “Is this about guns or marijuana?” asks The Original Larry. The answer is both! Whether you are for the right to bear arms, or for the right to consume cannabis, the real issue is freedom of choice. Minimal but reasonable controls should probably exist for both activities. Criminalizing the responsible use of either guns or cannabis is not the answer; the answer is reasonable safeguards for both.

  17. David Duff says:

    Ain’t nobody’s business but my own. Government, stay out of my bedroom and my garden.

  18. Mervel says:

    I am not sure how to best legalize it? I used to be pretty strongly against legalizing it, but the more I have studied the issue recently, the more I have changed my mind, the cost of prohibition is simply to high compared to the costs to society of legalization.

    There are studies that show it causes brain damage among younger users who’s brain is still growing and developing. But so does alcohol. One of the downsides of the incorrect classification of pot is that we don’t have a large amount of data on its long term health impacts both good and bad.

    I worry about the mass marketing that will at some point come with legalization, there is a huge market for all mind/mood altering substances in this country. We really screwed up with prescription narcotics and are now paying the price for not controlling their usage or understanding how they would be prescribed and how profitable they would be.

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